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Workforce increased 39,000 in April driven by the steep rise in unemployment

While the number of people in work increased by 39,000, there are an additional 278,000 people looking for more work according to the latest Roy Morgan survey.

Workforce increased 39,000 in April driven by the steep rise in unemployment
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Australian employment fell by 239,000 to 13,151,000 in April driven by a large fall in part-time employment, down 270,000 to 4,442,000. In contrast, full-time employment increased by 31,000 to 8,709,000.

The moves in the employment market can be explained by policy responses to the omicron variant of COVID-19 as well as the steep fall in active cases during April. During April many of the isolation rules surrounding “close contacts” of positive COVID-19 cases were relaxed – meaning many workers who had only been hired on a part-time basis to fill in for workers forced into isolation were no longer required.

As well as the change in policy, there was also a steep fall in active cases of COVID-19 during April as the omicron variant receded and total active cases fell to their lowest since early January. These market forces led to many part-time workers falling into unemployment while a lucky few were upgraded to full-time work.

Around 9.7 per cent of the workforce (1,411,000) were unemployed, an increase of 278,000 from March with more people looking for both full-time work, up 172,000 to 559,000, and also part-time work, up 106,000 to 852,000.

In addition to the unemployed, 1.23 million Australians (8.4 per cent of the workforce) were underemployed – working part-time but looking for more work, up just 7,000 from March.

In total 2.64 million Australians (18.1 per cent of the workforce) were either unemployed or underemployed in April, up 285,000 on March. This is the highest level of combined unemployment and underemployment so far this year.

Compared to early March 2020, before the nationwide lockdown, in April 2022 there were almost 500,000 more Australians either unemployed or underemployed (+2.5 per cent points) even though overall employment (13,151,000) is almost 300,000 higher than it was pre-COVID-19 (12,872,000).

Roy Morgan’s unemployment figure of 9.7 per cent for April is more than double the Australian Bureau of Statistics estimate for March 2022 of 4 per cent. However, the ABS figure for March noted there were 504,100 workers who worked fewer hours than usual due to “bad weather or plant breakdown” – an increase of 454,900 on the same figure for February (49,200).

In addition, there were 577,300 workers who worked fewer hours than usual due to illness, personal injury or sick leave compared to an average of 418,700 for the month of March over the six years from March 2016 – March 2021. This equates to a difference of 158,600 in March 2022 above the average for the month of March for the previous six years.

Combining these two figures showed there were 613,500 workers who were classified as employed who worked fewer hours than one would have expected in March due to either the severe weather events and flooding in Queensland and NSW (454,900) or due to sickness and ill health due to the widespread outbreaks of COVID-19.

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