Back To Listing

Australian unemployment drops to its lowest for a year as employment increases again in March

This Roy Morgan survey on Australia’s unemployment and ‘under-employed’* is based on weekly face-to-face interviews of 745,847 Australians aged 14 and over between January 2007 and March 2021 and includes 5,959 telephone and online interviews in March 2021. *The ‘under-employed’ are those people who are in part-time work or freelancers who are looking for more work.

Latest Roy Morgan employment series data shows 1.64 million Australians unemployed in March (down 291,000 on February) for an unemployment rate of 11.4% - the lowest for a year.

  • 12.75 million Australians were employed in March – the highest since early March 2020:

    12,749,000 Australians were employed, up 46,000 from February driven by an increase in full-time employment, up 83,000 to 8,405,000. Part-time employment was down 37,000 to 4,344,000.
  • Unemployment dropped in March with Australians finding jobs and others leaving the workforce:

    1,639,000 Australians were unemployed (11.4% of the workforce), down 291,000 from February. There were fewer people looking for full-time work (down 122,000 to 668,000), and part-time work (down 169,000 to 971,000).
  • The workforce was down in March, but the second highest ever behind February’s record:

    The workforce in March was 14,388,000 – comprised of 12,749,000 employed Australians (an increase of 46,000) and 1,639,000 unemployed Australians looking for work (down 291,000).

Roy Morgan’s unemployment figure of 11.4% for March is over 5% points higher than the current ABS estimate for February 2021 of 5.8%. However, the ABS figure for February counts as employed an additional 127,000 Australians who were working zero hours for ‘economic reasons’. If these non-workers are added back the ABS unemployment estimate for February increases to 932,000 (6.7%). The ABS also claims there are 1.18 million Australians (8.5%) under-employed for a total of 2.11 million unemployed or under-employed (15.2% of the workforce).

  • Under-employment down in March as full-time employment increases and part-time employment falls for the third straight month:

    In addition to those who were unemployed, 1.09 million Australians (7.6% of the workforce) were under-employed – working part-time but looking for more work. This was a decrease of 49,000 on February.

    In total 2.73 million Australians (19.0% of the workforce) were either unemployed or under-employed in March, a decrease of 340,000 on February. The drops in both unemployment and under-employment drove the measure to its lowest since early March 2020.

Compared to early March 2020, before the nation-wide lockdown was implemented, in March 2021 there were over 550,000 more Australians either unemployed or under-employed (+3.4% points).


Unemployment was lowest in Victoria and NSW during last month of JobKeeper wage subsidy

Unemployment dropped in all five mainland States in March as we approached the end of the JobKeeper wage subsidy. A look at the trends on a State-based level shows unemployment was lowest in the two largest States of NSW at 10.2% (down 1.3% points from February) and Victoria at 9.8% (down 2.9% points).

Next best was South Australia on 11.0% (down 1.4% points). Unemployment remains highest in Queensland at 14.7%, although this was down 1.2% points and Western Australia at 14.0% (down 0.5% points).

The biggest driver of the declines in unemployment was people leaving the workforce and no longer looking for work but there was also jobs growth in NSW and in particular Victoria as the State re-opened fully in March following a short State-wide lockdown in mid-February. There were an extra 229,000 people employed in Victoria in March compared to February and employment growth of 3,000 in NSW.

The JobKeeper wage subsidy program has now finished and this is expected to lead to significant job losses over the next few months. There were over 1.5 million Australians receiving the wage subsidy at the end of 2020 and an estimated 1.1 million were on the program during the March quarter 2021.

According to Dr. Steven Kennedy, Secretary to the Australian Treasury, as many as 150,000 Australians may lose their jobs at the conclusion of the JobKeeper wage subsidy program.


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

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

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


Michele Levine, CEO Roy Morgan, says the March 2021 estimates show there are now far more unemployed or under-employed Australians looking for work than a year ago even though employment levels are essentially back to where they were a year ago pre-COVID-19:

“Roy Morgan’s results for March 2021 show jobs growth continuing for the sixth straight month since Victoria’s long second lockdown ended in October 2020, up 46,000 to 12.75 million in March. This is marginally below the employment levels of a year ago in early March 2020 (12.87 million) with 8.41 million now employed full-time and 4.34 million employed part-time.

“The difference to a year ago is an extra 550,000 Australians either unemployed or under-employed. In March 2021 there were 2.73 million Australians (19% of the workforce) either unemployed or under-employed compared to 2.16 million (15.6%) in early March 2020.

“The ending of the JobKeeper wage subsidy at the end of March adds an extra ‘wrinkle’ to assessing the jobs market as an estimated 1.1 million Australians were receiving the subsidy during the March quarter 2021 and up to 150,000 may lose their jobs in the coming weeks and months according to Dr. Steven Kennedy of the Australian Treasury.

“The good news for those looking for work is that Australian businesses are more confident than they’ve been for more than seven years since early 2014. The latest Roy Morgan Business Confidence for March is at 124.0 – and a clear majority of 59.4% of businesses say the next 12 months is a good time to invest in growing the business.

“In addition retail sales continue to be strong with the latest ABS Retail Sales figures for February 2021 showing annual growth of 9.1% from a year ago. Over the last nine months since June 2020 Retail Sales have averaged annual growth of 9.2% on a year ago – an unprecedented boom for larger retailers as Australians have been prevented from spending on travel and holidays due to frequent domestic border closures and a closed international border.

“These are positive indicators for those that may lose their jobs in the next few weeks or months due to the end of the JobKeeper wage subsidy that they should be able to find new employment even if it may be in a different industry to their existing employment.

“The rollout of the COVID-19 vaccines in Australia has been criticised for lagging other countries, however now that domestic production of the vaccine is ramping up this should lead to greater distribution of vaccines over the next few months and increase confidence that there will be no more domestic border closures or lockdowns during the second half of the year.”

This Roy Morgan survey on Australia’s unemployment and ‘under-employed’* is based on weekly face-to-face interviews of 745,847 Australians aged 14 and over between January 2007 and March 2021 and includes 5,959 telephone and online interviews in March 2021. *The ‘under-employed’ are those people who are in part-time work or freelancers who are looking for more work.

Contact Roy Morgan to learn more about Australia’s unemployed and under-employed; who and where they are, and the challenges they face as they search for employment opportunities.

Visit the Roy Morgan Online Store to purchase employment profiles, including for Australians who are employed, unemployed, under-employed, employed part-time, employed full-time, retired, studying and many more.

Roy Morgan Unemployed and ‘Under-employed’* Estimates

Unemployed or

‘Under-employed’*

Unemployed

Unemployed looking for

‘Under-employed’*

Full-time

Part-time

2020

‘000

%

‘000

%

‘000

‘000

‘000

%

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

Oct-Dec 2020

3,064

21.5

1,738

12.2

789

949

1,326

9.3

2021

Jan-Mar 2021

2,971

20.6

1,750

12.1

717

1,033

1,222

8.5

Months

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

March 2021

2,728

19.0

1,639

11.4

668

971

1,089

7.6

*Workforce includes those employed and those looking for work – the unemployed.



Roy Morgan Research cf. ABS Unemployment Estimates

Roy Morgan Unemployment & Under-employment (2005-2021)

Source: Roy Morgan Single Source October 2006 – March 2021. Average monthly interviews 4,000.
Note: Roy Morgan unemployment estimates are actual data while the ABS estimates are seasonally adjusted.


Roy Morgan Research cf. ABS Unemployment Estimates

Roy Morgan Monthly Unemployment (2000-2021)

Source: Roy Morgan Single Source January 2000 – March 2021. Average monthly interviews 4,000.
Note: Roy Morgan unemployment estimates are actual data while the ABS estimates are seasonally adjusted.


Roy Morgan Quarterly Unemployment (2000-2021)

Source: Roy Morgan Single Source April 1995 – March 2021. Average monthly interviews 4,000.
Note: Roy Morgan unemployment estimates are actual data while the ABS estimates are seasonally adjusted.


For comments or more information please contact:
Roy Morgan - Enquiries
Office: +61 (03) 9224 5309
askroymorgan@roymorgan.com