Trend figures don't lie, and they show the outlook is bleak

It's a puzzle. The seasonally adjusted estimates on which analysts choose to focus, show 5700 fewer people unemployed last month.So times are good, huh?

It's a puzzle. The seasonally adjusted estimates on which analysts choose to focus, show 5700 fewer people unemployed last month.So times are good, huh?

Not exactly. The same Bureau of Statistics figures tell us that after seasonal adjustment, there were 10,200 fewer people employed last month. Full-time work fell by 6800. So are the times both bad and good?

The first step towards understanding what is going on is to forget about seasonally adjusted figures.

The bureau has warned us repeatedly that their margin for error is too large to be a reliable guide. But economists keep ignoring this. My guess is they do so because they probably like the colour these utterly unpredictable and unreliable figures provide.

Perhaps the bureau should put its estimates of the standard error on page 1 of its labour force figures, to get the message out. On page 34, it tells us it is 95 per cent confident the movement in jobs last month was somewhere between plus 20,000 and minus 41,000. It is confident unemployment moved by something between plus 14,000 and minus 25,000.

Does anyone find that helpful? No, so let's discard the seasonally adjusted figures and move to the figures the bureau wants us to focus on: its trend estimates, which even out the zigs and zags to work out what's really happening.

What the trend figures tell us is this. In the six months to July:

The number of Australians aged 15 and over grew 171,000.

The number of them with a job grew 53,000.

The number with a full-time job grew 700.

The number who are unemployed grew 42,000.

The number who are retired, studying, looking after children or for whatever reason, neither in a job nor looking for one grew 76,000.

The average working hours of those in jobs grew from 140.3 a month to 140.9 hours, making up some of the ground lost last year.

Twenty-five per cent of teenagers who want a full-time job are unemployed.

Joe Hockey says the Reserve Bank cut interest rates on Tuesday because the economy is weak. These figures suggest he is right.

The economy is not generating jobs at anything like the pace needed to keep up with the growth in the adult population.

Even after we allow for people retiring, the job market is weak, and getting weaker.

Western Australia, for so long the nation's powerhouse, has lost a net 5000 jobs since Christmas. What growth there is, surprisingly, is now in NSW, Victoria and South Australia, although only Victoria has kept up that growth in recent months. Possibly the lower dollar and lower interest rates are relieving the pressure on the south-east states, but it's too soon to be sure.

The trend unemployment rate nationally is 5.7 per cent, the same as the seasonally adjusted rate. Western Australia is still the best of the states with 4.8 per cent, followed by NSW and Victoria with 5.6 per cent, Queensland 6.1 per cent, South Australia 6.4 per cent, and Tasmania in a state of its own with 8.4 per cent, and almost 10,000 full time jobs wiped out in the past two years - one in every 16.

A ReachTEL poll for Fairfax Media last week found the Liberals in a strong position to take three of Labor's four seats in the state, and possibly win the lot.

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