This TV ad touches on a number of interesting elements of the Coalition's economic policy platform. One that has caught my attention and on which I would like to comment here is the promise “to generate two million new jobs over the next 10 years”.
Almost any party engaged in any campaign I have had a chance to witness inevitably promises to increase employment. It is, however, less common to come across an announcement that specifies how many jobs will be created and over what period of time. This is understandable: once you commit to a specific number, you become more accountable to voters for your future results. We can imagine that if the Coalition wins and then employment does not start to increase, the “two million new jobs” promise will haunt Tony Abbott for a long time.
While the promise of the Coalition is direct and clear, the underlying economic premise raises a few questions. I will consider two in particular: is the creation of two million new jobs such a dramatic improvement relative to what Labor governments have done in the past five years; and in which sectors of the economy can these two million new jobs be generated?
Labor results versus Coalition promises
During the five and a half years of Labor governments, total employment in Australia increased by 969,150 units (the data extends to the second quarter of 2013). This amounts to an average quarterly increase of 44052 units. If we take this number and project it over the next 10 years (i.e. 40 quarters) we obtain a total increase in employment of 1,762,092 units.
The Coalition promises to create on average 50,000 jobs per quarter for the next 10 years; that is, “only” approximately 6,000 jobs a quarter more than what was created by the Labour governments in the past five years.
I say “only” for two reasons. First, the cumulative difference between what the Coalition promises and what Labor delivered (projected over the next 10 years) is approximately 238,000 units. This is equivalent to a mere two per cent of total employment by 2024. Furthermore, in growth rate terms, the average quarterly increase in employment under Labor between 2008 and 2013 was 0.41 per cent. The promise of the Coalition would imply a quarterly increase in employment of 0.43 per cent. This hardly qualifies as a drastic improvement.
Second, the expected improvement in global economic conditions over the next several years should strengthen domestic economic growth and therefore make labour market dynamics much more favourable. I think that this is an important (and sometimes neglected) point, so I wish to elaborate it a little bit.
Labor has been in office during the most difficult economic time since the Great Depression. While Australia avoided the type of recession observed in Europe and the United States, domestic growth significantly declined from an annual average of 3.4 per cent between 2000 and 2007 (with a peak of 4.6 per cent in 2007) to an annual average of 2.6 per cent between 2008 and 2013 (with a trough of 1.4 per cent in 2009). This, in turn, hampered labour market dynamics.
In the absence of a counter-factual, it is difficult to say by how much employment would have increased under Labor if domestic economic growth between 2008 and 2013 had remained in line with its 2000-2007 trend. But we can try some back of the envelope calculations based on a simple regression of quarterly employment creation on quarterly GDP growth.
For the full period from 1967 to 2013, this regression yields an estimated slope coefficient of 6541, meaning that a 1 percentage point increase in quarterly growth would generate an extra 6541 jobs per quarter. So, if we artificially increased growth in 2008-2013 from 2.6 per cent to 3.4 per cent, then the expected increase in employment creation by quarter would be 0.8x6541 = 5232 units. This means that if growth had continued along its 2000-2007 trend, then the average quarterly increase in employment under Labor in the period 2008-2013 would have been approximately 44052 5232 = 49282 units. That is practically the same increase that the Coalition is now promising to deliver.
By promising to deliver two million new jobs in 10 years, the Coalition is promising to maintain a rate of job creation similar to that achieved by Labor governments in the past five years. This does not necessarily mean that the promise of the Coalition is not ambitious enough. But it does mean that the Coalition does not expect to be able to do much better than Labor in terms of job creation. To me, this sounds as an implicit admission that the Labor governments did well in supporting the labour market.
Rising versus declining sectors
In promising two million new jobs, the Coalition should probably clarify which sectors of the economy are expected to drive employment growth in the next 10 years. This is an important question because Australia is undergoing a process of structural transformation and tertiarisation that needs to be accommodated with appropriate labour market and economic policies.
The structural transformation is evident in the long-term data on employment by sector of economic activity available from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
Looking at the last twenty years, the sectors that have generated most employment are:health care and social assistance (711,400 units), professional, scientific, and technical services (543,500 units), construction (444,600 units), and retail trade (408,100). These four compartments together generated 1,176,500 jobs in the last 10 years, which is equivalent to 54 per cent of the total increase in employment since the second quarter of 2003. Adding education and training and accommodation and food services, where employment has increased by 228,400 units and 154,000 units respectively in the last 10 years, one obtains a rather comprehensive picture of the raising stars of the Australian economy.
Conversely, manufacturing and agriculture have lost jobs, slowly but steadily: 78,800 jobs have been lost in manufacturing and 97,100 in agriculture since the second quarter of 1993. The global financial crisis has hit manufacturing quite hard, and the loss of jobs in that sector has significantly accelerated since 2008. Yet as documented in the Fact Check I previously mentioned, the contraction in manufacturing employment in Australia has been less dramatic than in most other industrial economies.
Employment growth in mining has been remarkable. In the last 20 years, total employment in this sector has gone up by about 190 per cent and most of this increase has occurred since the early 2000s. This trend has however flattened over the last few quarters. More importantly, in terms of numbers of people employed, mining remains relatively small: it occupies a total of 261,100 individuals and the net increase over the past two decades has been just above 170,000 units. That is, there appears to be a structural limit to how much employment can be expected to be generated from mining in the long term.
The key message that can be inferred from these trends is that any significant increase in employment in Australia will most likely come from selected compartments in the services sector, with possibly a marginal contribution from mining. Agriculture and manufacturing cannot be expected to be the main driver of future employment growth.
Now, all this does not imply that agriculture and manufacturing should not be supported. Policies to ensure that these sectors remain competitive through the adoption of new technologies and the formation of human capital are always welcome. However, given the ongoing structural transformation, what should be avoided is the adoption of policies that – in the attempt to increase employment in the declining sectors – prevent the mobility of labour across sectors and distort the incentives of workers and employers, thus causing an inefficient allocation of resources.
Hopefully, the five pillars plan of the Coalition recognises the constraints arising from the structural transformation process. Nevertheless, it will be hard to generate two million new jobs in 10 years.
Fabrizio Carmignani is associate professor at Griffith Business School, Griffith University.
Fabrizio Carmignani does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations. This article was originally published at The Conversation. Read the original article here.