Lies, damn lies and this week’s unemployment statistics.

Australia’s official unemployment rate this week is likely to come in at about half the latest US count, but the real level of unemployment is likely to be similar.

By Alan Pascoe

The US unemployment rate soaring to nearly 15 per cent grabbed plenty of headlines over the weekend, reflecting COVID-19 wiping out some 33 million American jobs.

Hundreds of people queue outside an Australian government welfare centre, Centrelink, in Melbourne, Australia, on March 23, 2020.PHOTO: AFP

The Australian Bureau of Statistics on Thursday is tipped to produce an April unemployment rate starting with a 7 or 8, on its way to 9 per cent or so in June.

It will fool nobody.

The official count is being kept down primarily through the JobKeeper scheme, along with plenty of assistance from the ABS unemployment definition and workers dropping out of the workforce.

A better guide to the amount of work that has been lost is the Reserve Bank’s estimate that hours worked will be down by 20 per cent.

The discrepancy between work lost and official unemployment goes further than the usual long-running argument between the ABS and the Roy Morgan polling organisation about the best definition of “unemployed”.

Roy Morgan uses a simple survey question: Is the person looking for work?

On that basis, Roy Morgan counted 2.16 million Australians – 15.3 per cent of the workforce – as unemployed last month. 

The ABS uses a much tougher international standard that makes it possible to compare unemployment rates across nations, but understates the genuine level of people without work and wanting it.

A report by the CBA economics team last month spelt out the key elements in the ABS definition that will keep numbers down.

To make the official “unemployed” grade, individuals had to have “actively looked for work” in the survey week, been available to work and had worked for less than one hour in that week.

There are hundreds of thousands of people on JobKeeper who are not working, but aren’t classified by the ABS as being unemployed.

There also are plenty of people on JobSeeker who are not officially “unemployed”.

Unemployment rate remains high for poor, Indigenous and disabled ...
Scenes from the Great Depression in the 1930’s

What we’re also likely to see on Thursday is a sharp fall in the participation rate – the percentage of people who are either working or looking for work.

Many people who lost their jobs won’t have been actively seeking a replacement last month, given few jobs to be had and a couple of million people looking for them.

The CBA is tipping Thursday’s ABS release will claim more than half a million jobs were lost in April, with the participation rate down one full percentage point to 65 per cent, resulting in an unemployment rate of 8 per cent.

It takes time for people to start searching again after such a large-scale employment shock – they need to sense there are jobs to be found.

Hence the participation rate is likely to remain well below its recent peak as long as the economy is weak – and that’s for some years under current government policies, according to the Reserve Bank.

When the Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Friday that he had “a plan that, according to treasury, can see some 850,000 jobs restored in the months ahead”, those jobs were mostly from the JobKeeper pool – people who officially aren’t unemployed now.

A disingenuous politician could end up claiming unemployment during this recession was kept well below the double-digit levels of the past two recessions in the 1980s and 1990s.

That would be fiddling with statistics.

First published at The New Daily – Tuesday 12 May 2020. See;

2 thoughts on “Lies, damn lies and this week’s unemployment statistics.

  1. My question is where is the main stream media exposing this lie ? Job seeker and Job keeper allowance were created to hide the real unemployment figures.
    The ridiculous amounts of money quoted by the government in payments. It will be revealed later this year that most of the money was not paid out due to labyrinth of Centrelink and ATO requirements, geared towards limiting access to the public purse.
    Will the real figures of unemployment ever be released? I suggest the real figures are between 15 -20 % right now,maybe more. I cant wait for the stories of abuse of Job keeper allowance with Tracey on Current Affair, the ATO will say they did their best ,like NSW health with the Ruby Princess and passengers.
    At least the USA are honest about their figures on unemployment

  2. As I said over ten days ago (see above) the government figures were as dodgy as, on Job keeper. It was revealed today they had made a small error,it was not 6.5 million, only 3.5 million people on Job Keeper allowance.
    Just a minor error and they blamed over 1000 businesses for the error, not because they were not eligible and strict criteria, Blind Freddy could see the lie.
    I am sorry,you cant believe a word from this government, they are just patent liars. What else are they lying to us about?

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