Trend figures paint a bleaker jobs picture

It is a puzzle. On the seasonally adjusted estimates that analysts choose to focus on, July saw 5700 fewer people unemployed. So times are good?

It is a puzzle. On the seasonally adjusted estimates that analysts choose to focus on, July saw 5700 fewer people unemployed. So times are good?

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

The first step to understanding what is going on is to forget about seasonally adjusted figures. The bureau has warned us that its margin for error is too large to give any reliable guide to month-by-month movements.

But economists keep ignoring it, and my guess is it's because they like the colour and movement the 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 that it is 95 per cent confident that the monthly movement in jobs in July was somewhere between plus-20,000 and minus-41,000. They are confident that 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. What the trend figures tell us is this. In the six months to July:

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

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

■ The number with a full-time job grew by 700.

■ The number who are unemployed grew by 42,000.

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

■ The average working hours of those in jobs grew from 140.3 hours a month to 140.9 hours, making up some of the ground lost in 2012.

■ 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 Joe is right.

The economy is not generating jobs at anything like the pace needed to keep up with the growth in the adult population. The jobs market is weak, and getting weaker.

By July, the bureau estimates that total growth in jobs has shrunk to 1000 a month, with full-time jobs shrinking by 1700 a month.

The trend unemployment rate nationally is 5.7 per cent, the same as the seasonally adjusted rate.

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