Rudd, Abbott, bring on the plan for more “middle class” jobs

Jobs growth is a centrepiece political promise for both political parties but nothing has been said on what type of jobs these will be.

At least President Obama told Americans in his 2013 State of the Union address that he wanted growth of “middle class” jobs implying stability, good pay, and decent conditions.

But Australians have only been given a generic “more jobs” promise from our leadership contenders as we saw in the last People’s Forum. One pointed question was asked about what the parties propose to help underemployed and casualised workers, and neither prime minister Kevin Rudd nor opposition leader Tony Abbott offered any more than bland generalities.

Abbott talked about how a stronger economy will be the best medicine and that his priority is getting the unemployed into jobs. Rudd also went down the strong economy track but mentioned Government programs to assist young people with trades training and a $1000 incentive payment for 2500 businesses each year to take on workers aged 55+. More details on assistance for the unemployed were revealed in the ALP election campaign launch. But none of the existing programs or new announcements by either parties are greatly relevant in relation to underemployment and casualisation.

Despite the lack of traction on the issues in this election campaign, the nature of future jobs growth is an outstanding question for whoever takes office on September 7. Underemployment and casualisation as significant features of the Australian labour market over the last 20 years have seriously eroded opportunity and living standards for many. New findings from Australia’s large longitudinal surveys tell us why.

Why underemployment matters

Current ABS data shows that involuntary underemployment stands at 7.3%. Combined with unemployment, that means around 1.6 million people, or around 13% of the workforce, have no work or not enough work. In the first half of 2013 9.5% of the female workforce, compared to 5.4% of the male workforce, had insufficient hours of work.

From July 2014, the ABS is planning to publish underemployment statistics as part of the monthly labour force survey, as opposed to the present rate of every three months. This will help to keep the issue on the public agenda. As unemployment rises next year to 6.25%, it will be especially important to monitor trends in underemployment.

The effects of unemployment/joblessness and underemployment (short part-time hours) are explored in a newly published paper by the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs. The research, based on the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children, shows that that the most disadvantaged families are indeed those where parents are not in paid employment. However, families dependent on jobs with short part-time hours are also significantly disadvantaged.

An important finding of the research is that the benefits of paid employment are more effectively achieved when parents move from jobs with short part-time hours to jobs with full-time or long part-time hours. There are some benefits gained from moving from joblessness to short hours part-time jobs, but these are limited. We know from ABS data that many people in short hours jobs – those involuntarily underemployed – want more hours of work.

This means we need full time jobs growth and a pool of long part-time hours permanent jobs (of around 25-30 hours per week) for those who want them – especially needed for women trying to balance work and family. Can someone please ask Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott about their plans to grow these jobs?

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