Unemployment rises amid growing consumer gloom

Australia’s unemployment rate unexpectedly rose to 5.3% in August, with consumer confidence now at a record low, separate grim new figures have revealed.


According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 9,700 jobs were lost last month, defying economists’ predictions that more than 10,000 jobs would be created.


A total of 12,600 full-time positions were lost, offset slightly by the creation of 2,900 part-time positions.


The participation rate, which includes those in work or looking for a job, remained stable at 65.6%. The total number of hours worked was up 4.6 million hours to 1,626.8 million hours.


While the unemployment rate is still relatively low, the hike in the jobless total will be worrying for small businesses. The Federal Government has blamed the “patchwork” economy for the rise in unemployment.


The disappointing ABS data was compounded by separate research by Nielsen that shows that consumer confidence is now at its lowest level since 2009.


The poll of 1,500 consumers found that the confidence “index” has fallen to 97. Scores above 100 indicate confidence in the economy, with figures under 100 showing pessimism.


According to the Nielsen report, 60% of consumers believe business conditions are “tough”, with a further 55% believing job prospects “are not very good”.


Four in 10 of those quizzed say they have less income than a year ago, with rising electricity and water costs the biggest worry for consumers.


More than a third feel that the Federal Budget is in “bad shape”, although only 19% are “very concerned” about the US’ recent credit downgrade.


“Australians still believe they are not saving enough, even though their personal finances appear relatively healthy, so we’re likely to see consumers allocating even more cash to savings, while simultaneously trying to increase household cash reserves through expenditure reduction,” says Chris Percy, Managing Director for Nielsen’s Consumer Group.


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