Unemployment hits 50-year high

Unemployment in Australia is at a level not seen for almost 50 years in a major development just two days before the election.

Scott Morrison has entered new data showing the national unemployment rate has fallen to its lowest level in 48 years, but Anthony Albanese says people care more about the cost of living after wages only rose at a fraction of the rate of inflation.

Just two days before the election, the Australian Bureau of Statistics announced on Thursday that the unemployment rate had fallen from 4% to 3.9% in April.

This is the lowest level since 1974 and the sixth consecutive monthly gain in employment.

“In April we saw employment increase by 4,000 and unemployment drop by 11,000,” ABS head of labor statistics Bjorn Jarvis said on Thursday.

“As a result, the unemployment rate fell slightly in April, but remained stable, in rounded terms, with the revised rate of 3.9% in March.”

Among men, the unemployment rate fell to its lowest level since October 2008, now at 4%.

For women, it remained at 3.7% for a second month, its lowest level since May 1974.

Seasonally adjusted hours worked rose 1.3% in April, following devastating flooding earlier in the year.

“Hours in New South Wales and Queensland increased in April following the impacts of flooding in March. The number of people working fewer hours than usual due to bad weather has fallen from its March peak of over 500,000 to around 70,000 people in April,” Mr Jarvis said.

But Covid still impacted people’s health and their ability to go to work.

“About 740,000 people worked reduced hours in April due to illness, nearly double what we typically saw in April before the pandemic,” Jarvis said.

“Of those people, around 340,000 worked zero hours, about triple what we would usually see.”

The underemployment rate fell 0.2 percentage points to 6.1% and the underutilization rate, which combines the unemployment and underemployment rates, fell 0.3 percentage point to 10%.

Australia Institute senior economist Matt Grudnoff said the data showed more people had given up looking for work than they had found one.

“The unemployment rate is calculated based on the number of people looking for work and today’s 0.1% drop is largely in the 7,000 who gave up looking, down from the 4,000 who have found a job,” he said.

“The unemployment rate is just the tip of the economic iceberg. To get a complete picture of the evolution of the economy and society, you have to look at all the statistics, including the participation rate, hours worked, job security and real wage growth.

“Today’s numbers underscore the fact that low unemployment is not driving wage growth and that government intervention is needed.”

But Mr Morrison said the Coalition’s economic plan was working.

“This election is a choice about who can handle the money and who can’t,” he said Thursday afternoon.

“It’s a choice between who has an economic plan that works and Labor who doesn’t have an economic plan.

“It’s a choice between what you know in a government that was able to get Australia through one of the biggest economic challenges we’ve seen since the Great Depression and World War II…and the risk of working who can’t handle money.”

Mr Albanese said hard workers were more concerned about the cost of living.

The new data comes after figures released on Wednesday showed wages rose at an annual rate of 2.4% from the March quarter.

This is less than half the rate of inflation, which is 5.1%.

“We want (the unemployment rate) to be as low as possible,” Mr Albanese said.

“But people are like, ‘How can I pay my bills? How do I pay my rent? How can I buy food and the essentials of life?’

Read related topics:Anthony AlbanianScott Morrison

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