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Unemployment down to 11.7% in January – lowest since March 2020, but under-employment increases again

Source: Roy Morgan Single Source January 2019 – January 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 1.68 million Australians unemployed in January (down 44,000 on December) but under-employment was up 81,000 to 1.44 million.

  • Over 12.6 million Australians were employed in January – the highest since early March:
    12,675,000 Australians were employed, up 26,000 from December driven by an increase in full-time employment, up 46,000 to 8,197,000 although part-time employment was down 20,000 to 4,478,000.
  • Unemployment fell in January as some Australians found jobs and some left the workforce:
    1,680,000 Australians were unemployed (11.7% of the workforce), down 44,000 from December. The good news is that there were fewer people looking for full-time work, down 105,000 to 692,000. However there was an increase of 61,000 to 988,000 Australians looking for part-time work.
  • The workforce was down slightly – driven by the fall in unemployment:
    The workforce in January was 14,355,000 – comprised of 12,675,000 employed Australians (an increase of 26,000) and 1,680,000 unemployed Australians looking for work (down 44,000).

Roy Morgan’s unemployment figure of 11.7% for January is over 5% points higher than the current ABS estimate for December 2020 of 6.6%. However, the ABS figure for December counts as employed an additional 65,000 Australians who were working zero hours for ‘economic reasons’. If these non-workers are added back the ABS unemployment estimate for December increases to 977,000 (7.1%). The ABS also claims there are 1.18 million Australians (8.5%) under-employed for a total of 2.16 million unemployed or under-employed (15.6% of the workforce).

  • Under-employment increases for second straight month in January to highest since July:
    In addition to those who were unemployed, 1.44 million Australians (10.0% of the workforce) were under-employed – working part-time but looking for more work. This was an increase of 81,000 on a month ago and an increase of 154,000 over the last two months.
In total 3.12 million Australians (21.7% of the workforce) were either unemployed or under-employed in January, an increase of 37,000 on December with the increase driven by the continuing increase in under-employment according to the latest Roy Morgan employment estimates.

Compared to early March, before the nation-wide lockdown was implemented, in January there were over 950,000 more Australians either unemployed or under-employed (+6.1% points).

Michele Levine, CEO Roy Morgan, says the results for January show that although jobs continue to return there are now a greater proportion of part-time jobs than there were prior to the first COVID-19 lockdowns in March 2020:

“Roy Morgan’s unemployment measure for January shows 1.68 million Australians were unemployed (11.7% of the workforce) and an additional 1.44 million (10.0%) were under-employed. In total, 3.12 million Australians (21.7%) were unemployed or under-employed – up 37,000 on a month ago.

“The results for January continue a trend seen in December with another significant increase in the under-employed – now up 154,000 since November and the largest two-month increase since the COVID-19 pandemic began. The increase in under-employment comes as the JobKeeper wage subsidy was cut to $1,000 per fortnight for full-time employees and to only $650 per fortnight for part-time employees in January.

“The wage subsidy is set to be removed altogether at the end of next month and the increases in under-employment appear to be an early sign of a trend that is set to continue as businesses trim their workforces or cut back their employees hours as Government stimulus is withdrawn.

“It must be remembered that since the COVID-19 pandemic began to heavily impact Australia in mid-March there are now an extra 950,000 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 – January 2021. Average monthly interviews 5,000.
Note: Roy Morgan unemployment estimates are actual data while the ABS estimates are seasonally adjusted.

Unemployment clearly lowest in NSW as under-employment surges in Victoria & Queensland

A look at the trends on a State-based level shows unemployment in NSW continues to be the lowest in the nation at 9.0% in January. In further good news unemployment was down in both Victoria to 11.1% and down in South Australia to 11.8%.

Unemployment was virtually unchanged in Western Australia at 13.5% in January while there was a significant increase in Queensland’s jobless rate, up 3.6% points to 16.8% and now easily the highest of the five mainland States.

However, the biggest concerns in January surrounded the continued rises in under-employment in both Victoria, up 0.9% points to 11.9%, and Queensland, up 1.5% points to 10.5%.

Both States have now recorded consecutive monthly rises in under-employment in the last two months and now have under-employment well above the national average of 10%. Under-employment remains low in other States and is at 9.4% in NSW, 9.1% in Western Australia and only 7.6% 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 next month. 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.

The ending of the JobKeeper wage subsidy is set to place additional stress on many businesses in the months ahead. The rises in under-employment in Victoria and Queensland over the last two months indicate that not only are many jobs at risk of being lost without this support but businesses which are still dealing with a significant drop in revenue will cut back the hours of their employees as a first step to saving money as they wait for a return to normality expected later in the year.

Michele Levine, CEO Roy Morgan, says to some extent Australia is presently in the ‘eye of the storm’ as hundreds of billions of dollars of Government spending supports the economy but is set to reduce significantly in April with the ending of the JobKeeper wage subsidy:

“Australia has experienced a stop-start few months with borders all over the country finally re-opening in early December. However, outbreaks of COVID-19 occurring in Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne and Perth since mid-December have caused borders to close, city-wide lockdowns of millions of people in Brisbane and Perth and a localised three-week lockdown in Sydney’s Northern Beaches.

“These ongoing disruptions have certainly played havoc with people’s travel plans and are also giving headaches to businesses around the country trying to plan out the next few months. Unfortunately, with COVID-19 vaccines not due to be rolled out to all Australians until October 2021 there are set to be many more months of uncertainty surrounding the normal functioning of the economy.

“In January the JobKeeper wage subsidy was cut back for a second time to only $1,000 per fortnight for full-time employees and $650 per fortnight for part-time employees. Although unemployment was down 44,000 to 1,680,000 (11.7% of the workforce) in January, for the second straight month under-employment increased and is now up 154,000 since November to 1,438,000 (10% of the workforce).

“The increasing level of under-employment is a growing concern as the cuts to Government support programs such as the soon-to-end JobKeeper place more pressure on businesses. Often the first step a business will take to save money is to cut back on an employee’s hours before taking the step of terminating that workers employment.

“The Australian Treasury estimated there were 1.5 million employees Australia-wide receiving JobKeeper in the December Quarter. This is a large cohort of workers and many face an uncertain next few months as the program is set to end.

“Looking forward a few months there will be upward pressure on both unemployment and under-employment without the same level of underlying support. Even now, while the support continues, there are an additional 950,000 Australians either unemployed or under-employed than there were in early March 2020.

“These results add up to a very competitive labour market for the 3.12 million unemployed and under-employed Australians (21.7% of the workforce) throughout 2021 as the COVID-19 vaccine rolls out and the economy continues its recovery.”

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 
*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 733,877 Australians aged 14 and over between January 2007 and January 2021 and includes 6,086 telephone and online interviews in January 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 – January 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 – January 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 – January 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