Queensland once again has the highest unemployment rate in Australia (7.7% compared with a national average of 6.9%), as revealed by the September Labour Force Survey data released by the ABS yesterday, but we need to be careful in jumping to conclusions regarding what that means. It’s a combination of a) previous under-performance, which meant we had a higher unemployment rate than the national average pre-COVID (around half a percentage point) and b) now having a higher participation rate in Queensland, at 65.5%, than the national average, which is 64.8%. In September, Queensland’s participation rate surged by 1 percentage point, meaning the reported 1.3% growth in employment wasn’t able to lower the unemployment rate.
Also, we should keep in mind the unemployment rate doesn’t tell the full story and we should consider the underemployment rate (i.e. those employed but working fewer than their desired hours). Queensland’s underemployment rate is below the national average which is being kept much higher than otherwise by Victoria’s disastrous performance (see chart below).
Hence, Queensland’s total labour underutilisation rate, the sum of the unemployment and underemployment rates, is similar to the national average (see chart below).
Queensland has lost fewer jobs (proportionally) following the COVID-shock than the rest of Australia (e.g. see the chart below based on the payroll data published last week), and I’ve previously attributed that to the importance of mining and agriculture which have proven resilient, and it’s also no doubt due to COVID being less of a problem here than in some other states (which is a point Pete Faulkner makes in Pretty good jobs numbers for QLD; despite the headline unemployment rate moving higher again). As Queensland Treasury’s labour force briefing reports, according to the September Labour Force Survey data, employment in Queensland is down 1.8% since March, compared with a 3.3% decline nationwide, a 2.3% decline in NSW, and a 6.4% decline in Victoria. So, although we have the highest unemployment rate in Australia, Queensland has actually coped with the COVID-shock better than the larger states (and Tasmania), although not as well as Western Australia or South Australia it appears.
On Queensland’s economic under-performance pre-COVID, check out the new hard-hitting article from former CCIQ Chief Economist Marcus Smith and former media man Dan Petrie which they prepared for the Institute of Public Affairs:
The Queensland Productivity Commission also highlighted Queensland’s pre-COVID economic under-performance in its economic resilience report published earlier this year. The QPC has been rewarded for its independence of thought and expression by being absorbed into Queensland Treasury, which is a real shame.