Bold claim from Qld Treasurer: more Queenslanders working now than pre-COVID restrictions

Queensland Treasurer Cameron Dick has made a bold claim, which I disagree with, that more Queenslanders are working now than were working pre-COVID. The Treasurer’s claim is based on the October Labour Force data published by the ABS on Thursday, data which we should remember are based on a survey of households and are subject to sampling error. According to the Courier-Mail, Treasurer Cameron Dick has said:

“Queensland is the only state in Australia that has put back on every single job lost since the lockdowns started in March, plus 500 more,” he said.

“That means more people are working in Queensland now than before the start of restrictions.

The Treasurer’s claim is based on the ABS estimate of employed persons (seasonally adjusted) in Queensland for October (2,563,493) being marginally higher than the estimate for March (2,562,979), although it was still lower than the estimate for February (2,568,470). Technically, Treasurer Dick is correct based on the ABS Labour Force Survey data, but they are almost guaranteed not to be perfectly reflecting reality.

Treasurer Dick should recognise the sampling error in the data and the high risk his statement that more Queenslanders are working now than pre-restrictions is incorrect. Consider that the statistical standard error for total employed persons in Queensland in October was 21,000 people, according to the ABS’s Labour Force Methodology publication. So making a strong statement based on employment being 500 people higher in October than in March, as the Treasurer has done, is pretty bold. Before we move on to the more accurate payroll data, I should point out that, in October, full-time employment in Queensland was over 30,000 people lower than in March, based on the ABS Labour Force data the Treasurer is relying on.

I think it’s way too soon for the Treasurer to claim more people are working now than were pre-COVID, particularly since the Treasurer’s statement isn’t supported by the payroll jobs data released by the ABS earlier in the week (see chart below), data which admittedly aren’t seasonally adjusted but which are based on Single Touch Payroll data provided to the ATO by the vast bulk of employers (i.e. a much bigger data set than the Labour Force Survey). According to the payroll data, at the end of October, there were around 2% fewer jobs in Queensland than in mid-March, just before social distancing restrictions were imposed. Total wages were 3.3% lower than in mid-March. Note the seasonality in the data whereby wages paid spiked in late September and early October during the school holiday period.

Finally, I should note the ABS State Accounts data were published yesterday and revealed a 1.8% fall in the nominal dollar value of Queensland’s Gross State Product in 2019-20 (see chart below). Queensland was the only state or territory to experience a nominal decline, which was a result of lower coal and LNG prices. Furthermore, as the ABS, reports, for nominal GSP, this was “the state’s first fall in recorded history” (i.e. since 1990, when the ABS started estimating state GSP).

Queensland also experienced a 1.1% decline in real GSP compared with a 0.3% decline nationwide. As the ABS notes:

Queensland recorded a larger contraction compared to the national result due to larger falls in private investment.

I’ll have a closer look at the State Accounts data in a future post.

Please feel free to comment below and let me know whether you agree or disagree with the Treasurer’s view that “more people are working in Queensland now than before the start of restrictions.” Alternatively you can email comments, suggestions, or hot tips to contact@queenslandeconomywatch.com

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