The numbers that show the ugly complicated truth about Australia's labour force

Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong
Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong

Our measurement of time has been warped during coronavirus, with 2020 both seeming twice as long as a normal year, and also like it has barely started at all.

One thing is for sure, it's a long time since Prime Minister Scott Morrison has talked about the economy "snapping back" to pre-coronavirus levels. And we won't hear him say it again.

Plotting Australia's path out of the recession caused by the life-saving economic shutdown is not a task that anyone would envy."We have never had to deal with a more complex policy problem than this," Mr Morrison said on Thursday as he fronted up to reporters for the second month in a row to say the unemployment numbers across the country were heartbreaking, but not surprising.

And a complex problem it is - the headline unemployment rate is just one part of the puzzle Mr Morrison and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg will be examining in the lead up to the mini-budget on July 23.

What we know now is that 927,600 Australians are unemployed and looking for work - a number of whom started the pandemic without a job.

The participation rate is at its lowest point since January 2001, meaning many Australians who lost their job aren't looking and aren't included as unemployed.

We know through the Australian Bureau of Statistics that 2.3 million people were affected by either job loss or less hours than usual between April and May.

We know that by the middle of May 1.6 million Australians were receiving the JobSeeker unemployment payment, well ahead of the 1.7 million that were projected to be receiving the payment by September.

We know around 2.3 million Australians on different welfare payments, including JobSeeker, are receiving the $550 a fortnight coronavirus supplement, a form of economic stimulus currently due to end in September.

We know 3 million workers are being paid through the JobKeeper wage subsidy scheme, and it is unlikely that when that scheme ends, all of those workers will still find themselves in a job, or with their normal hours.

We also know the underemployment rate is at 13.1 per cent - when added to the unemployment rate, that's 20 per cent of the workforce with either no work or not enough.

And these are just the overall figures - the situation facing women, young people and casual workers is worse again, and the long-term effects for these groups that were already marginalised in a stronger economy are more than the difference between having a pay cheque and not.

These are just one of the many reasons Mr Morrison is no longer talking about a "snap back" - the solutions to be had will not come easily.

It looks increasingly likely JobSeeker won't be reduced to its previous levels, but that is just the first step.

The government must work out how to save jobs that should be saved, and create even more, all the while balancing just how much help is enough, but not too much.

This story The numbers that show the ugly complicated truth about Australia's labour force first appeared on The Canberra Times.