Remarkable turnarounds for Townsville, Mackay, and Cairns

In my upcoming Brisbane Club presentation on Tuesday, one chart I’ll show is of selected Queensland regional unemployment rates, highlighting how the economic recovery generally and a booming mining sector have translated into some extraordinarily low unemployment rates in some regions. Regions such as Townsville, Cairns, and Mackay are experiencing rates of unemployment far below highs experienced last decade (see the chart below). The improvement in my hometown of Townsville is particularly remarkable.* The ABS’s estimate of the 12-month moving average unemployment rate for Townsville in July was 2.9%. Compare that with unemployment rates of 11-12% five years ago. 

In a small number of regions, unemployment rates remain high, most notably Logan-Beaudesert and Queensland Outback, and Wide Bay (see chart below). I suspect this is partly related to the disproportionate numbers of disadvantaged people living in these regions, including Indigenous and low-skilled, long-term unemployed people. Structural change, including a declining manufacturing sector and mechanisation in agriculture reducing the need for on-farm labour, are also probably relevant. You can find the data behind this chart in the Queensland Government Statistician’s Office’s handy Regional Labour Force briefing

One thing to keep in mind is that, while the numbers make sense in terms of what we know has been happening in state and regional economies, there is a large degree of uncertainty regarding the figures or point estimates to use the jargon. The estimates are derived from the Labour Force Survey and the ABS would only be surveying, at most, a few hundred households in many of the regions for which data are presented. I’ll aim to examine the size of the sampling errors in a future post.

Finally, if you’d like to attend the Brisbane Club Economics in Conversation event on Tuesday 6 September from 5pm I’m speaking at, alongside former state government finance minister Rachel Nolan and current shadow Treasurer David Janetzki, then please let me know and I can arrange it with the Club. Tickets are $65, but there will be plenty of drinks and finger food, as well as some great speakers, of course.  

*Hat tip to JCU Adjunct Professor Colin Dwyer for alerting me to what the most recent labour force data have been showing for Townsville. 

Please feel free to comment below. Alternatively, you can email comments, questions, suggestions, or hot tips to Also please check out my Economics Explored podcast, which has a new episode each week.

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