Gig economy and baby boomers easing into retirement would partly explain why jobs growth mostly part-time


The July labour force data released by the ABS yesterday were good news for Australia and Queensland, with the unemployment rate falling in seasonally adjusted terms for both Australia, from 5.8% to 5.7%, and for Queensland, from 6.4% to 6.1%. But many commentators have noted that much of the apparent jobs growth was part-time. For example, through-the-year to July, employment in Queensland increased by nearly 26,000 people, but the increase in full-time employed was only around 6,000 people, while the increase in part-time employed was around 20,000 people (see the chart above and Queensland Treasury’s labour force brief). We need to be careful in interpreting these data as meaning that much of recent jobs growth has been inferior, however, as there is likely an underlying structural shift towards part-time employment, reflecting an increased desire among many Australians to be part-time employed, that is being reflected in the data.

I suspect a large proportion of the part-time jobs growth is due to baby boomers easing into retirement by moving from full-time work (35 hours per week or more) into part-time work. Also, the rise of the so-called gig economy, with the growth of freelancers and self-employed people, including Uber drivers, will be showing up in the data. The gig economy is allowing many people to work the hours they choose and to combine part-time employment with raising children, or another business or hobby, for example. We need to know more about the extent to which these trends are influencing the composition of employment growth before we can draw firm conclusions about the quality of new jobs.

On yesterday’s labour force data, see the latest post from Pete Faulkner:

Jobs data surprises on the upside; even QLD does better

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9 Responses to Gig economy and baby boomers easing into retirement would partly explain why jobs growth mostly part-time

  1. Craig Wilson says:

    good post and analysis, Gene

  2. NSSfT says:

    Hi Gene – this is a very glass half full perspective. Most of the surveys I see, and my statewide discussions show people very concerned with underemployment. The continuing move to the gig economy means in the end, less money in the pocket to spend and the money circulation slows. Eventually we have enough baristas and Uber drivers. What then?

    • Gene Tunny says:

      Thanks for the comment, NSSfT. Yes, it is a glass half full perspective. I recognise that there are concerns about under-employment. I intend to look at the data more closely to understand to what extent the shift to part-time jobs is caused by demand or supply-side factors. I suspect both are significant.

  3. Alistair Robson says:

    An interesting idea about older workers shifting to part time being a ” a large proportion of the part-time jobs growth”. If this is true, then the real question may be are they shifting to part time because they want to or because the hours are not available so they are being forced to.

    My suspicion is that it’s being forced if it’s true. It makes some sense as we know output growth has been relatively low in the past few years as has income (or declines based on which measure you use!).

    Older people are often the first to get the chop for a variety of reasons (although PhD’s in economics may be on that list too). According to the ABS, under utilisation (extended) of people aged 65+ (i.e. those who want more hours) was higher than any age group over 25 (based on 2012 data, can’t find more recent data) – (!OpenDocument)

    Doesn’t sound like it’s voluntary. It sounds more like a symptom of a poorly performing labour market.

  4. Gene, My data also suggests that this shift to part-time is very much a regional, rather than a Greater Brisbane, issue. Over the course of the past year full-time positions in Greater Brisbane have increased by 10,800 with part-time up 12,200. However, in the rest of the state full-time jobs are down 28,100 while part-time are up 15,500.
    The age break-downs are significantly different too. In Greater Brisbane the jobs growth has come in the older (45+) cohort who have added 17,400 while in Rest of Queensland that sector added just 3,200 (the only age group where jobs were gained in RoQ). Rest of QLD lost 14,200 in the middle aged cohort (25-44yr) while Greater Brisbane picked up 7,400. As a result the %age of the labour force in Greater Brisbane that are older has risen from 34.6% to 35.6%.
    What we are seeing is a distinct split into two very different labour markets inside, and outside, the Greater Brisbane region.
    {all data refers to Conus Trend series for Regional Queensland}

    • Gene Tunny says:

      Thanks for the comment, Pete. I agree we are seeing a split between regional and SEQ labour markets.

      • NSSfT says:

        The regions are in peril: The best are in recession and many in depression. With automation, disruption, climate shifts and structural change playing out they will struggle for a longtime to come, possibly forever. Sadly some may not make it.

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