Unemployment numbers have returned to pre-COVID levels as the ABS releases the latest dataset confirming that the unemployment rate had dropped to 5.8%.
5.8% unemployment represents a half-point reduction from the 6.3% figure in the previous quarter, as nearly 90,000 Australians found work or increased their hours through January into February.
The number of unemployed Australians dropped by 70,000 in the most recent figures.
The release of the latest data means that total employment is just 1,800 jobs below employment figures recorded in March, 2020, when COVID-19 hysteria and economic uncertainty was peaking.
Head of Labour Statistics at the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Bjorn Jarvis said that “the strong employment growth this month saw employment rise above 13 million people, and was 4,000 people higher than March 2020.”
“Full-time employment by 89,000 people, of which 69,000 were women. Female full-time employment was 1.8 per cent higher than March 2020, while male full-time employment was 0.8 per cent below.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said that “in less than 12 months from when the recession began, caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, there are now more jobs in the Australian economy than there were before the pandemic.”
“That is something that is truly remarkable and a great credit to every Australian who hung in there, every Australian business who kept people in jobs, everyone who played a role in ensuring that we did everything that we possibly could to see that Australia continues to come through this COVID-19 pandemic and recession in the best way that we possibly can.”
Unemployment Numbers Return to Pre-COVID Levels
In spite of the positive news, economists are concerned about the impact of the government’s JobKeeper program coming to a close at the end of March.
That is in combination with the fact that the number of under-utilised Australians increased from 8.1% to 8.5% in February.
The Commonwealth Bank’s economist Kristina Clifton has told the ABC that “the jobs lost in the early months of the coronavirus pandemic have now been fully replaced… the next test of the labour market will be the expiry of the JobKeeper program later this month.”
According to reports, more than 520,000 organisations and 2.13 million Australian employees have ‘graduated’ from the government’s JobKeeper program since September, 2020.
The ATO has said that the number of organisations relying on JobKeeper payments has reduced from 56 per cent since the first phase ended in September, and the second ended in December.
1.54 million Australians received JobKeeper assistance in December, which was down from 3.6 million in September, 2020.
Jo Masters of EY has said that “the strength in the labour market also suggests the country is ready to absorb the removal of broad based government support such as JobKeeper, though there may be some bumps in the road – in February, there were still 127,000 people working zero hours for economic reasons, compared to 60,000 last February.”
Masters continued to explain that “generating faster wage growth, however, will require further progress in eroding the space capacity in the labour market, which underutilisation still elevated at 14.4 per cent.”