Forcing jobseekers to move masks economy’s problems

The prime minister has taken another turn putting the boot into unemployed Australians, suggesting they should be forced to take jobs in rural areas or face losing their jobseeker payments. Such a policy would do little to improve anything, and pointedly fails to address the major issue of falling full-time, ongoing jobs.

By Greg Jericho

On Tuesday, speaking at the AFR Business Summit in Sydney, Scott Morrison said: “Every day we hear the stories of employers, especially in regional areas, unable to fill positions. It’s got way past anecdotal.”

It is just anecdotal, of course. Take the minister for employment, Michaelia Cash, who told reporters last month that “you often hear, though, employers saying, ‘Joe applied for a job. He was qualified for the job’, or she, ‘and they said no’.”

It seems the biggest data set associated with this phenomenon is the number of people in the government saying they have heard it exists.I am living in fear of what life will be like when jobseeker is cut back Read more

In reality, as was revealed last month, 10,500 unemployed people in the six months to February had taken up a job fruit picking and a further 3,500 had applied but been knocked back.

But hey, why bother with figures when you are hearing so many things …

Last month, when the government announced its meagre increase in the jobseeker base rate, it also announced increased mutual obligations. There was nothing that suggested unemployed people would need to take up work in rural areas.

But on Tuesday Morrison suggested that the government was pursuing two responses to fix the problem he is hearing about so often.

One was to look at changes to temporary work visas, and the second was “to strengthen the mutual obligation requirements for jobseekers receiving the jobseeker payment”.

He asserted: “If there is a job available, and you are able to do that job, then it is reasonable for taxpayers to expect that you will take it up, rather than continue to receive benefits. And if you don’t, then payment should be withdrawn.”

It is an extraordinary link given that it would drastically change the way in which unemployed people are now expected to seek work.

You actually have to apply for permission to move when on jobseeker. Moving to a place with lower employment opportunities can result in a suspension of payments.

And most rural areas have lower employment opportunities than the cities. This is no shock. There’s a reason cities have more people than rural areas – that’s where the jobs are.

And while the pandemic and shutdown of high-employing businesses such as food services and hotels has seen some relative increase in unemployment in cities compared with rural areas, what remains consistent is that people are much more likely to be unemployed for longer in rural areas:

https://www.datawrapper.de/_/YozHf/

In no state is the median duration of unemployment longer in the capital city area than in the rest of the state.

In New South Wales, for example, all rural areas have longer unemployment duration times than those in greater Sydney.

https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/hvgNC/1/

The same is mostly true in Queensland, where aside from the eastern suburbs of Brisbane, the duration of unemployment is higher in rural areas, regardless of what the unemployment rate may be.

https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/rL8oI/2/

And yet aside from being a terrible policy that treats unemployed people as little more than faceless data points able to be shifted around the place with no regard for family, friendships or responsibilities, the problem with employment at the moment is not in getting people into temporary work.The Morrison government would like to declare the economic battle is won Greg Jericho

The latest figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics show that the number of main jobs (ie, either people’s only job, or their highest paying job) is still more than 2% below what it was in December 2019.

https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/qVVs4/2/

By contrast, there is now a record number of jobs that are a person’s second (or more) job.

https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/JO8tM/1/

In the last half of 2020, the number of jobs increased by 655,600, yet a third of them were “secondary jobs”. That is not a healthy sign, given only about 7% of all jobs are secondary ones.

It suggests there is not a lot of well-paid work around, and a lot of people – indeed more than ever before – need to work two or more jobs.

Suggesting that the problem is unemployed people who are not willing to work might play well on talkback radio but it does nothing to address the actual problems of employment and the economy.

People live where the chances for work are best and, as Australia’s entire history has shown, people are much more likely to move to the cities to get work than move to rural areas.

But while there has been some good news on the job front, the major problem remains not temporary fruit picking work or even short-term casual labour of any type. The problem is ongoing, full-time work.

And the lack of that is not going to be solved by blaming unemployed Australians.

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Greg Jericho is the Economics Editor at The Guardian Australia and a former Treasury Official.

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First published at Guardian Australia – Thursday 11 March 2021. See; https://www.theguardian.com/business/grogonomics/2021/mar/11/forcing-job-seekers-to-move-is-not-just-bad-policy-it-does-nothing-to-address-the-economys-real-problems

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