After a brief respite from the perils of the rising unemployment figures which have become a symptom of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has reported another rise in those numbers – as well as a drastic rise in the numbers of what it terms “unemployed families”.
While employment fell by 30,000 people for the month of September – rising roughly 0.2 per cent to 6.9 per cent, according to the ABS – a separate ABS survey revealed the more shocking revelations that more than one in five families are jobless, up nearly two per cent in the last 12 months.
According to analysts at the ABS, this – like seemingly most occurrences in 2020 – is quite unprecedented.
“With the disruption of COVID-19, there was an 11.5 per cent increase in families without an employed person in them, between June 2019 and June 2020. This was larger than the annual increases seen in earlier economic downturns in 1982 (9.9 per cent) and 1992 (9.0 per cent),” said Bjorn Jarvis, the ABS’s head of labour statistics.
While the ABS defines a “family” as any two or more people involved in a relationship of any type co-habitating within the same household, the figure of 21.2 per cent is padded by pensioner couples and parents voluntarily out of the workforce for the purpose of caring for infants, and when those demographics are taken into account, the figure dips slightly to 17.0 per cent.
But even with that slight reduction, the sharp increases points towards the added strain on families and their lifestyles.
“Families with dependants have a lower level of joblessness than older families, but the extent of job losses during the COVID-19 period resulted in a larger annual increase in the number of jobless families with dependants,” said Jarvis.
And then there are some of the shocking and alarming subsets within those broad family statistics:
- For couple families with dependants, joblessness increased 53.5% since 2019
- 2% of families with children under 15 were jobless families
- Couple families with dependants where neither parent was employed increased 39.5% since 2019
- 3% of couple families with children under 15 have one parent employed
Also, it’s not just the parents, but also the working young as well. In addition to the ABS, the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) points out a youth unemployment rate of 14.5 per cent, directly attributed to the recent cuts in the JobKeeper and JobSeeker subsidies.
And in examining the general unemployment rate of 6.9 per cent and the under-employment rate of 11.4 per cent, the ACTU sees that those figures are only going to get worse without installing key programs that will buck the trends.
“Unemployment increased – especially for young people – as the Morrison Government cut back critical support payments and with millions reliant on the JobKeeper program for work,” said Michele O’Neil, the ACTU’s national president.
“Now is not the time for the government to be cutting back. 160,000 workers are expected to lose their jobs between now and the end of the year. The government needs to recommit to supporting these workers and start creating secure jobs to lift the economy out of recession,” O’Neil added.
And the impact of the pandemic and nation’s recession has not been lost on key ministers, either.
“Young people have been disproportionately hit by the COVID pandemic – suffering from high unemployment, social isolation, depleted retirement savings, interruptions to education and training, and severe mental health impacts,” said Brendan O’Connor, the ALP’s shadow minister for employment and industry.
While 3.5 million workers are still receiving a reduced JobKeeper subsidy, the youth unemployment rate worsened by 0.4 percent in the last month and increased by 2.7 per cent in the last 12 months.
O’Neil says the any interpretation of these sets of numbers cannot bode well for stimulating an economy out of the depths of a recession – especially given that the Morrison government, in addition to the JobKeeper and JobSeeker cuts and the unknown future of the JobSeeker subsidy beyond the end of the year, did not take the ACTU up on its outstanding offer to adopt its National Economic Reconstruction Plan (NERP) over the past few months, and particularly in a federal budget which was announced ten days ago.
“The government should reverse the cuts to JobSeeker and JobKeeper and expand JobKeeper to cover the industries and workers who have been excluded from government support since the start of the pandemic,” said O’Neil.
“It is incomprehensible that in the midst of a recession the government is refusing to provide clarity about the future of the JobSeeker payment. It should reverse the cuts and guarantee the payment at the original rate into the future.
“The ACTU’s [NERP proposal] lays out how strong government investment in infrastructure, manufacturing, tourism, training and early childhood education can create the secure jobs we need and put money in the hands of working people who will spend it,” added O’Neil.
With the cuts to JobKeeper already set to doom the Australian economy to the tune of an estimated $1.52 billion per fortnight versus before the cuts were made, various shadow ministers continue to assail the government on its inaction towards attacking the unemployment figures effectively.
“The government’s budget racked up one trillion dollars of debt, but failed to include a comprehensive plan for jobs, and locked in damaging cuts to JobKeeper in the face of rising unemployment,” said O’Connor.
Meanwhile, Linda Burney, the shadow minister for families and social services, spares thoughts for those in the over-50 demographic who must now compete with their under-35 counterparts receiving a proposed wage-subsidy scheme from the new federal budget.
And Burney puts it in the context of other failed government programs for older Australians.
“The government’s Restart program, which it touts as its signature policy for Australians over 50, has been an utter failure in getting older people into work. Not only is it undersubscribed, 40 per cent of workers under this program were without work within three months,” said Burney.
“These Australians are rapidly approaching the JobSeeker Christmas cliff with no certainty about the future of their support payments and will now find themselves competing with a subsidised younger workforce,” Burney added.
Also by William Olson:
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