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More people in full-time work, but an extra 10,000 unemployed: What the figures really mean

Yolanda Redrup /

Australia’s unemployment rate remained steady at 6% in February, in line with economists’ predictions.

The latest figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show the number of people employed in February grew by 47,300 jobs to 11,530,800, with an increase in full-time positions driving the growth.

Full-time employment increased by 80,500 jobs, but was offset by a fall in part-time employment, which was down 33,300 positions.

While the number of new jobs was up overall, there was still an increase in the number of unemployed people, as the number of people out of work rose by 9800 to 742,200 in February.

The figures, however, have caused some confusion, as people question how the number of jobs could have increased at the same time as the number of unemployed people.

JP Morgan economist Tom Kennedy told SmartCompany the result is influenced by the labour force participation rate.

“It all maps back to the participation rate. Labour force participation was quite strong, increasing by 2/10, meaning there were more people employed, or more people looking for work,” he says.

“When this happens you can get an uplift in employment, a rise in unemployment or an increase in both. In this case it was the latter and while there were almost 50,000 jobs created, there were also more people out there looking for work who were reclassified to be included in the labour force.”

The labour force participation rate now stands at 64.8%, an increase of 0.2 percentage points, according to the latest figures from the ABS.

In trend terms, the less volatile unemployment figure, which eliminates month-to-month discrepancies, rose from 5.9% to 6%.

On a state basis, the Australian Capital Territory has the lowest rate of unemployment, with the percentage of people out of work dropping from 3.6% to 3.4%.

Tasmania also recorded a fall in unemployment, but it still maintains the highest level of unemployment in the country, with 7.4% of people out of work.

The highest rise in unemployment occurred in Western Australia, with unemployment jumping from 5.2% to 5.9%.

Overall, Kennedy says in February there was a slight “uptick” in the labour market.

“The growth in full-time jobs was actually the second strongest on record dating back to 1976. However there are distortions in the data,” he says.

“The jobless rate held steady at 6%, which is consistent with what we predicted and this generally gives the best indication of how unemployment is tracking.”

Toward the end of the year JP Morgan predicts unemployment will reach 6.5%.

“It won’t come as a shock to us or the Reserve Bank, which predicts it will peak around the beginning of 2015,” Kennedy says.

Kennedy says when the jobless rate increases, it has broader economic impacts.

“When the jobless rate moves higher it suggests wage growth is soft and that the economy is running sub trend,” he says.

“Consumption is likely to remain soft going forward. As income growth is low, there won’t be much discretionary spending. Consumer sentiment is also likely to be subdued and this is clear looking at the Westpac-Melbourne Institute Index of Consumer Sentiment which has dropped around 10% in the last few months.”

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