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Australian workforce hits a record high in February as employment and unemployment both increase


Source: Roy Morgan Single Source January 2019 – February 2021. Average monthly interviews 5,000.
Note: Roy Morgan unemployment estimates are actual data while the ABS estimates are seasonally adjusted.

Latest Roy Morgan employment series data shows 1.93 million Australians unemployed in February (up 250,000 on January) but under-employment was down 300,000 to 1.14 million.

  • Over 12.7 million Australians were employed in February – the highest since early March:
    12,703,000 Australians were employed, up 28,000 from January driven by an increase in full-time employment, up 125,000 to 8,322,000. Part-time employment was down 97,000 to 4,381,000.
  • Unemployment increased in February as Australians began looking for work:
    1,930,000 Australians were unemployed (13.2% of the workforce), up 250,000 from January. There were more people looking for full-time work (up 98,000 to 790,000), and part-time work (up 152,000 to 1,140,000).
  • The workforce increased to a new record high as more people began looking for work:
    The workforce in February was 14,633,000 – comprised of 12,703,000 employed Australians (an increase of 28,000) and 1,930,000 unemployed Australians looking for work (up 250,000).

Roy Morgan’s unemployment figure of 13.2% for February is over 5% points higher than the current ABS estimate for January 2021 of 6.4%. However, the ABS figure for January counts as employed an additional 103,000 Australians who were working zero hours for ‘economic reasons’. If these non-workers are added back the ABS unemployment estimate for January increases to 981,000 (7.1%). The ABS also claims there are 1.13 million Australians (8.1%) under-employed for a total of 2.11 million unemployed or under-employed (15.2% of the workforce).

  • Under-employment down in February as full-time employment increases and part-time employment falls for the second straight month:
    In addition to those who were unemployed, 1.14 million Australians (7.8% of the workforce) were under-employed – working part-time but looking for more work. This was a decrease of 300,000 on January.

    In total 3.07 million Australians (21.0% of the workforce) were either unemployed or under-employed in February, a decrease of 50,000 on January with the decrease driven by a fall in under-employment greater than the increase in unemployment according to the latest Roy Morgan employment estimates.

Compared to early March 2020, before the nation-wide lockdown was implemented, in February 2021 there were over 900,000 more Australians either unemployed or under-employed (+5.4% points).

Michele Levine, CEO Roy Morgan, says the results for February show a record high workforce participation rate as Australians facing the end of JobKeeper and the cutting back of JobSeeker join the workforce – driving both employment and unemployment higher:

“Roy Morgan’s results for February show a growing workforce that is unable to find jobs for all the new workers in the market for a job. Overall employment increased by 28,000 to over 12.7 million Australians – the highest for a year since early March 2020, however unemployment increased by 250,000 to 1.93 million – the highest since August 2020.

“The combined workforce has now reached a record of over 14.6 million, an increase of 278,000 on January and over 740,000 higher than early March 2020 prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The winding back of the emergency Government support measures at the end of March has clearly hit home for many with the JobSeeker payment being cut from the current $716 a fortnight to $616 a fortnight and the JobKeeper wage subsidy of up to $1,000 per fortnight ending.

“Roy Morgan’s unemployment measure for February shows 1.93 million Australians were unemployed (13.2% of the workforce) and an additional 1.14 million (7.8%) were under-employed. In total, 3.07 million Australians (21.0%) were unemployed or under-employed – down 50,000 on a month ago.

“It’s important to remember that 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 makes for a very competitive jobs market for those currently looking for new work.”


Roy Morgan Unemployment & Under-employment (2019-2021)

Source: Roy Morgan Single Source January 2019 – February 2021. Average monthly interviews 5,000.
Note: Roy Morgan unemployment estimates are actual data while the ABS estimates are seasonally adjusted.

Unemployment again lowest in NSW and now highest in Queensland and WA

A look at the trends on a State-based level shows unemployment in NSW continues to be the lowest in the nation at 11.5% in February, although this represented an increase of 2.5% points from January.

Next best were South Australia on 12.4% (up 0.6% points) and Victoria on 12.7% (up 1.6% points) both with unemployment under the national average of 13.2%.

The States with the two most concerning levels of unemployment were Western Australia on 14.5% (up 1.1% points) and Queensland on 15.9% - although this was down 0.9% points on January the State still has the highest unemployment of any of the five mainland States.

Although unemployment surged around the country in February there was good news on the employment front for some workers. Full-time employment increased strongly in New South Wales and Victoria but was offset by larger falls in part-time employment.

In both Queensland and South Australia part-time employment increased strongly although full-time employment in both States was virtually unchanged from the month before.

The JobKeeper wage subsidy scheme was cut back to $1,000 per fortnight for full-time workers and $650 per fortnight for part-time workers at the start of the year and ends altogether at the end of the month.

The latest figures released by Treasury for the December quarter 2020 showed there were still around 1.6 million Australians receiving the JobKeeper wage subsidy at the end of 2020. This included 626,000 in Victoria (39% of all JobKeeper recipients), 491,000 in NSW (31%), 259,000 in Queensland (16%) and a further 233,000 (14%) spread across WA, SA, Tasmania, ACT & NT.

Even before the JobKeeper wage subsidy ends compared to a year ago unemployment in Victoria is now 5% points higher than February 2020 (7.7%), a larger increase than either New South Wales (4.2% points) or Queensland (+4.6% points). As these figures illustrate the largest impact from the withdrawal of JobKeeper is set to be in Victoria in which nearly one-in-five employees were receiving the wage subsidy at the end of 2020.

Michele Levine, CEO Roy Morgan, says the staged withdrawal of Government stimulus is causing large gyrations in the Australian workforce as uneconomic jobs are cut back while industries that are ‘booming’ are hiring new workers:

“The injection of hundreds of billions of dollars of Government stimulus over the last year has provided a great deal of support to the Australian economy and this is reflected in the high level of Roy Morgan Business Confidence – now at 120.8 in February and averaging 121.5 over the last three months – the highest figure for the summer period since 2013/14 (124.7).

“However, the structure of the economy is significantly different now than it was a year ago with industries such as Wholesale, Mining, Construction, Property & Business Services and parts of the Retail industry ‘booming’ whereas industries such as Accommodation & Food Services, Hospitality, Travel & Tourism and Education are facing tough times with the end of JobKeeper in a few weeks.

“These circumstances mean that while some businesses are busy hiring and planning investments for the year ahead other businesses are cutting back on employees who are no longer affordable with the end of the wage subsidy fast approaching.

“The latest Treasury data released on the JobKeeper wage subsidy showed Victoria has the largest reliance on JobKeeper with over 626,000 employees in the State receiving the payment at the end of the December quarter 2020 – higher even than the 491,000 on JobKeeper in the much larger NSW.

“Together the two largest States accounted for around 70% of all JobKeeper recipients and are set to be the hardest hit by job losses in the next few months. At present NSW is better placed to weather the end of the subsidy with the lowest unemployment of any State at 11.5% compared to 12.7% in Victoria. In addition NSW under-employment is at only 8% compared to 9.1% in Victoria.

“Overall the Australian workforce expanded in February to a new record high of over 14.6 million as both employment and unemployment increased. Employment is now at 12.7 million and at its highest since early March 2020 (12.9 million), but unemployment of 1.93 million (13.2% of the workforce) is over 900,000 higher than the comparable figure from a year ago of 1.02 million (7.3%).

“So while the number of jobs has almost returned to the level immediately before the COVID-19 pandemic struck Australia there are now over 900,000 more people in the market looking for a new job than a year ago.

“This month’s rise in Roy Morgan’s unemployment figure to 1.93 million (up 250,000) has brought the figure to its highest since August 2020 – 1.98 million (13.8%) and may be an early warning of what to expect in the next couple of months as the JobKeeper and JobSeeker stimulus payments are withdrawn.”

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
January 2021 3,118  21.7   1,680  11.7 692  988  1,438  10.0 
February 2021
3,068  21.0  1,930 13.2 790 1,140 1,138 7.8
*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 739,888 Australians aged 14 and over between January 2007 and February 2021 and includes 6,011 telephone and online interviews in February 2021. *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 October 2006 – February 2021. 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 – February 2021. 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 – February 2021. 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