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Workforce hits a new high in December with more jobs and more people looking for work – as Australia opens up

Source: Roy Morgan Single Source January 2019 – December 2020. Average monthly interviews 4,000.
Note: Roy Morgan unemployment estimates are actual data while the ABS estimates are seasonally adjusted.

Latest Roy Morgan employment series data shows over 12.6 million Australians employed in December (up 210,000 since November) and 1.72 million (up 44,000) are unemployed (up 0.1% to 12.0% of the workforce).

  • The workforce increased to a new record high in December of nearly 14.4 million
    The workforce in December was 14,373,000 – comprised of 12,649,000 employed Australians and 1,724,000 unemployed Australians looking for work. The workforce was up by 254,000 as both employment increased (+210,000) and unemployment also increased (+44,000).
  • Over 12.6 million Australians were employed in December – the highest since early March:
    12,649,000 Australians were employed, up 210,000 from November – driven by increases in NSW (up 103,000) and Queensland (up 168,000) while other States were little changed. There was an increase in full-time employment up 53,000 to 8,151,000 and part-time employment, up 157,000 to 4,498,000.
  • Unemployment increased in December as Australians joined the workforce:
    1,724,000 Australians were unemployed (12.0% of the workforce), up 44,000 from November. There were more people looking for full-time work, up 18,000 to 797,000 and part-time work, up 26,000 to 927,000.

Roy Morgan’s unemployment figure of 12.0% for December is significantly higher than the current ABS estimate for November 2020 of 6.8%. However, the ABS figure for November counts an additional 82,000 Australians who were working zero hours in November for economic reasons as ‘employed’. If these non-workers are added back the ABS unemployment estimate for November increases to in excess of 1.02 million (7.4%). The ABS also claims there are an additional 1.3 million Australians (9.4%) under-employed for a total of 2.33 million unemployed or under-employed (16.8% of the workforce).

  • Under-employment up slightly in December as part-time employment hits record high:
    In addition to those who were unemployed, 1.36 million Australians (9.4% of the workforce) were under-employed – working part-time but looking for more work. This was an increase of 73,000 on a month ago driven by an increase in part time employment that hit a record high of 4.5 million in December.

    In total 3.08 million Australians (21.4% of the workforce) were either unemployed or under-employed in December, an increase of 117,000 on November as all key metrics rose including full-time employment, part-time employment and unemployment according to the latest Roy Morgan employment estimates.

Compared to early March, before the nation-wide lockdown was implemented, in December there were over 900,000 more Australians either unemployed or under-employed (+5.8% points).

Michele Levine, CEO Roy Morgan, says the results for December show an economy in recovery mode but with more Australians joining the workforce there aren’t enough new jobs:

“Roy Morgan’s unemployment measure for December shows 1.72 million Australians were unemployed (12.0% of the workforce) and an additional 1.36 million (9.4%) were under-employed. 

“This is the first time since the initial shock of COVID-19 in March/April 2020 both measures have increased in the same month as Australians entering the workforce have led to increased employment, unemployment and under-employment. In total, 3.08 million Australians (21.4%) were either unemployed or under-employed in December – up 117,000 on a month ago.

“The results for December shows that as the Australian economy gradually re-opens – several border closures ended (at least temporarily) in the month – and as stimulus and support measures wind down there are many Australians keen to re-enter the workforce and find new employment.

“However, since the COVID-19 pandemic began to heavily impact Australia in mid-March there are now an extra 900,000 Australians either unemployed or under-employed which will make for a very competitive jobs market for those currently looking for new work.”

Roy Morgan Unemployment & Under-employment (2019-2020)


Source: Roy Morgan Single Source January 2019 – December 2020. Average monthly interviews 4,000.
Note: Roy Morgan unemployment estimates are actual data while the ABS estimates are seasonally adjusted.

Unemployment drops in New South Wales and now clearly the lowest in the nation

A look at the trends on a State-based level shows unemployment dropping sharply by 1.8% to 8.6% in NSW in December as many new jobs were created (+103,000). There are now 384,000 people looking for work in NSW, down 80,000 on November, and a significantly lower unemployment rate than any other State. 

Unemployment was virtually unchanged in Queensland at 13.2% as despite many new jobs being created (+168,000) they didn’t lower the number of Queenslanders looking for work which remained at 384,000.

The picture has darkened in Victoria which now has more people unemployed than any other State with 513,000 people looking for work in December, up 75,000 on November as the economy continues to open following a long period of lockdown. The unemployment rate has jumped to 13.2%, up 1.6% on November.

In both Western Australia and South Australia the re-opening economies saw increases in unemployment in December with the unemployment rate up 1.4% to 13.6% in WA and up 4.1% to 18.8% in South Australia.

The JobKeeper wage subsidy scheme has now been cut back to $1,000 per fortnight for full-time workers and $650 per fortnight for part-time workers and ends altogether at the end of March. According to the Australian Treasury there were an estimated 1.5 million employees Australia-wide receiving JobKeeper in the December quarter after an initial take-up of 3.6 million workers for the six months to September.

There have been calls for an extension of JobKeeper past the March quarter but the Federal Government appears committed to ending the scheme and Treasurer The Australian Prudential Regulation Agency (APRA) claims businesses and consumers now have an additional $200 billion sitting in their accounts as rates of savings soared during the pandemic as Government stimulus payments increased and banks and financial institutions offered support to customers in financial stress.

The ending of JobKeeper in the next few months will place extra stress on many businesses in the June quarter and may well lead to an increase in unemployment in the months ahead as businesses closely assess which employees provide value to the business on an ongoing basis.

Michele Levine, CEO Roy Morgan, says the re-opening of the Australian economy has led to increases in all the key categories including full-time employment, part-time employment and unemployment as the participation rate soars to a near record-high of 68.1%:

“The Australian economy is slowly re-opening although it has proved to be a stop-start process over the past month with borders opening and closing between states seemingly every other day. A clear result of this re-opening is Australians re-joining the workforce in droves with a record high of nearly 14.4 million Australians now either employed or unemployed and looking for work.

“In December all key metric increased including full-time employment (+53,000 to 8,151,000), part-time employment (+157,000 to 4,498,000) and unemployment (+44,000 to 1,724,000). The unemployment rate increased slightly to 12.0% (up 0.1%) and as part-time employment rapidly increased the under-employment rate also increased to 9.4% (up 0.3%).

“The increasing workforce presents somewhat of a mixed picture because although there are new jobs being created – part-time employment is at a new record high and overall employment is now the highest it has been since early March – there are clearly not enough jobs to go around for all those looking for new employment.

“There is likely to be a continuing high level of unemployment over the next few months as Government stimulus such as the JobKeeper wage subsidy winds down and the repayment holidays offered by banks and financial institutions for mortgages and other loans are also ended.

“Looking at the States there is something to be said for the way New South Wales has handled the COVID-19 pandemic. Australia’s most populous State now has clearly the lowest unemployment of any State at only 8.6% in December. Next closest are both Queensland and Victoria on 13.2%.

“The New South Wales Government has been the most committed to keeping the economy open and operating as normally as possible throughout the pandemic and has only once closed its borders – when new local cases in Victoria spiralled into triple figures on a daily basis in early July.

“This measured approach of relying on excellent contact tracing and testing, and localised lockdowns such as in the Northern Beaches rather than blanket city-wide or state-wide lockdowns, has provided greater certainty to businesses that they will be allowed to continue operating without undue restrictions being imposed.

“The Federal Government has lauded the NSW response to COVID-19 as the ‘gold standard’ for protecting both lives and livelihoods and today’s Roy Morgan unemployment results show the balanced policy is paying off.

“The praise by Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg of the NSW approach also suggests they remain committed to winding back Government stimulus over the next few months and pushing other States closer to the NSW model. The ending of stimulatory programs such as JobKeeper in the next few months is set to increase the economic (& employment) costs of lockdowns and border closures that other States have relied on heavily as part of their responses to COVID-19.”

Roy Morgan Unemployed and ‘Under-employed’* Estimates

Unemployed or

‘Under-employed’*

Unemployed

Unemployed looking for

‘Under-employed’*

Full-time

Part-time

2019

‘000

%

‘000

%

‘000

‘000

‘000

%

Jan-Mar 2019

2,604

19.2

1,345

9.9

635

701

1,259

9.3

Apr-Jun 2019

2,490

18.2

1,260

9.2

626

634

1,229

9.0

Jul-Sep 2019

2,261

16.6

1,188

8.7

520

667

1,074

7.9

Oct-Dec 2019

2,374

17.1

1,134

8.2

536

598

1,240

8.9

2020

Jan-Mar 2020

2,692

19.1

1,417

10.1

638

779

1,275

9.0

Apr-Jun 2020

3,466

24.6

2,099

14.9

937

1,162

1,367

9.7

Jul-Sep 2020

3,237

22.7

1,865

13.1

769

1,096

1,373

9.6

Months

September 2019

2,174

15.7

1,202

8.7

581

621

972

7.0

October 2019

2,307

16.7

1,075

7.8

441

634

1,232

8.9

November 2019

2,226

16.1

1,122

8.1

549

573

1,104

8.0

December 2019

2,588

18.6

1,205

8.7

619

587

1,383

9.9

January 2020

2,586

18.4

1,361

9.7

713

648

1,225

8.7

February 2020

2,443

17.3

1,174

8.3

517

658

1,269

9.0

March 2020 (Total)

3,046

21.6

1,715

12.2

684

1,030

1,331

9.4

March 2020 (Early)

2,161

15.6

1,019

7.3

402

617

1,142

8.2

March 2020 (Late)

3,923

27.4

2,407

16.8

960

1,447

1,516

10.6

April 2020

3,484

24.7

2,159

15.3

1,001

1,158

1,325

9.4

May 2020

3,459

24.5

2,090

14.8

907

1,183

1,369

9.7

June 2020

3,454

24.5

2,048

14.5

904

1,144

1,406

10.0

July 2020

3,284

23.0

1,786

12.5

807

979

1,498

10.5

August 2020

3,270

22.8

1,980

13.8

768

1,212

1,290

9.0

September 2020

3,158

22.3

1,828

12.9

732

1,096

1,330

9.4

October 2020

3,147

22.2

1,810

12.8

790

1,020

1,337

9.4

November 2020 2,964 21.0 1,680 11.9 779 901 1,284 9.1
December 2020 3,081 21.4  1,724   12.0   797  927  1,357  9.4
*Workforce includes those employed and those looking for work – the unemployed.

This Roy Morgan survey on Australia’s unemployment and ‘under-employed’* is based on weekly face-to-face interviews of 727,791 Australians aged 14 and over between January 2007 and December 2020 and includes 7,662 telephone and online interviews in December 2020. *The ‘under-employed’ are those people who are in part-time work or freelancers who are looking for more work.


Roy Morgan Research cf. ABS Unemployment Estimates

Source: Roy Morgan Single Source January 2019 – December 2020. Average monthly interviews 4,000.
Note: Roy Morgan unemployment estimates are actual data while the ABS estimates are seasonally adjusted.



Source: Roy Morgan Single Source January 2000 – December 2020. Average monthly interviews 4,000.
Note: Roy Morgan unemployment estimates are actual data while the ABS estimates are seasonally adjusted.



Source: Roy Morgan Single Source April 1995 – December 2020. Average monthly interviews 4,000.
Note: Roy Morgan unemployment estimates are actual data while the ABS estimates are seasonally adjusted.


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About Roy Morgan

Roy Morgan is the largest independent Australian research company, with offices throughout Australia, as well as in Indonesia, the United States and the United Kingdom. A full service research organisation specialising in omnibus and syndicated data, Roy Morgan has over 70 years’ experience in collecting objective, independent information on consumers.

Margin of Error

The margin of error to be allowed for in any estimate depends mainly on the number of interviews on which it is based. Margin of error gives indications of the likely range within which estimates would be 95% likely to fall, expressed as the number of percentage points above or below the actual estimate. Allowance for design effects (such as stratification and weighting) should be made as appropriate.

Sample Size

Percentage Estimate

40%-60%

25% or 75%

10% or 90%

5% or 95%

1,000

±3.0

±2.7

±1.9

±1.3

5,000

±1.4

±1.2

±0.8

±0.6

7,500

±1.1

±1.0

±0.7

±0.5

10,000

±1.0

±0.9

±0.6

±0.4

20,000

±0.7

±0.6

±0.4

±0.3

50,000

±0.4

±0.4

±0.3

±0.2