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Unemployment rate rises to 3.8% in March


The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has reported a slight increase in the country’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate to 3.8% in March.

According to the ABS, this rise is attributed to a decrease in employment by around 7,000 people, coupled with a surge in the number of unemployed individuals by 21,000.

CreditorWatch, Anneke Thompson, Chief Economist said: “After a very strong employment growth figure in February, employment growth in March 2024 returned to more normal levels. In trend terms, the unemployment rate remained stable at 3.9 per cent for the fifth month in a row, while in seasonally adjusted terms, unemployment increased by 0.1 percentage point to 3.8 per cent, which is where the rate sat in October 2023.

“Taken together, what this means is that while employment growth has been strong, it has really kept pace with population growth throughout the last few months. Pent up demand for labour in areas such as healthcare (particularly NDIS related jobs) as well as education and construction has contributed to good jobs growth, and the labour market has absorbed the additional labour supply that migrants have provided at a steady pace. 

“The number of unemployed people has increased by 11.2 per cent over the year to March 2024, which is a much higher rate than the increase in employment, which has grown by 2.4 per cent over the same time period – roughly the same rate as population growth, which was 2.5 per cent over the year to September 2023. What this tells us is that there is some softening in labour force conditions, although it can be considered very minor, and the market is still tight by historic standards.

“CreditorWatch’s Business Risk Index (BRI) data for March 2024, points to continued softening in business trading conditions, particularly among small and medium sized businesses. Average values of invoices are trending down, while trade payment defaults are trending up. This means that business activity is slowing, and cash flow problems are increasing. We expect continued softening in the labour market over the course of 2024, as businesses tighten strings where they can while interest rates remain high and consumer demand remains very subdued.”

Bjorn Jarvis, the head of labour statistics at ABS, noted that while employment experienced a minor decline in March, following an unusually high growth in February, the flows into employment had returned to a more typical pattern. Consequently, the seasonally adjusted employment-to-population ratio dropped by 0.2 percentage points to 64.0%, and the participation rate fell by 0.1 percentage point to 66.6%.

Jarvis emphasized that despite these fluctuations, the labour market remained relatively tight in March, with employment and participation rates still close to their record highs in November 2023. However, both indicators have dipped slightly since then, albeit remaining significantly higher than pre-pandemic levels.

In addition to the unemployment rate, other metrics also witnessed changes. The seasonally adjusted underemployment rate decreased by 0.1 percentage point to 6.5% in March, while the underutilization rate, which combines both unemployment and underemployment, held steady at 10.3%.

Looking at trend data, the trend unemployment rate remained stable at 3.9% for the fifth consecutive month in March. Employment experienced a modest growth of 29,000 people (0.2%), while hours worked remained stable. The employment-to-population ratio fell marginally but has maintained historically high levels, hovering above 64% for almost two years.

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