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Australian unemployment increases to 10.3% in May – a month after the end of JobKeeper

This Roy Morgan survey on Australia’s unemployment and ‘under-employed’* is based on weekly interviews of 758,633 Australians aged 14 and over between January 2007 and May 2021 and includes 7,028 telephone and online interviews in May 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 1.49 million Australians unemployed in May – up 186,000 on April for an unemployment rate of 10.3% with the increase somewhat offset by a fall in under-employment which dropped 101,000 in May to 1,256,000 (8.6%).

  • 13.07 million Australians were employed in May – just below the record high in April:

    13,069,000 Australians were employed in May including a record high 8,679,000 workers employed full-time, an increase of 145,000 from April and the seventh straight monthly increase. However, the increase in full-time employment was offset by a drop of 367,000 in part-time employment to 4,390,000.
  • Unemployment increased in May a month after the end of the JobKeeper wage subsidy:

    1,493,000 Australians were unemployed (10.3% of the workforce), up 186,000 from April. There were far more people looking for part-time work (up 221,000 to 935,000) but fewer people looking for full-time work (down 35,000 to 558,000).
  • The workforce was down slightly in May as employment dropped and some left the workforce:

    The workforce in May was 14,562,000 – comprised of 13,069,000 employed Australians (a decrease of 222,000) and 1,493,000 unemployed Australians looking for work (up 186,000).

Roy Morgan’s unemployment figure of 10.3% for May is over 4% points higher than the current ABS estimate for April 2021 of 5.5%. However, the ABS figure for April counts as employed an additional 59,000 Australians who were working zero hours for ‘economic reasons’. If these non-workers are added back the ABS unemployment estimate for March increases to 815,000 (5.9%). The ABS also claims there are nearly 1.1 million Australians (7.8%) under-employed for a total of 1.9 million unemployed or under-employed (13.8% of the workforce).

  • Under-employment was down in May as part-time employment also declined:

    In addition to those who were unemployed, 1.26 million Australians (8.6% of the workforce) were under-employed – working part-time but looking for more work. This was a decrease of 101,000 on April.

    In total 2.75 million Australians (18.9% of the workforce) were either unemployed or under-employed in May, an increase of 85,000 on April. The increase was driven by rising unemployment in May.
Compared to early March 2020, before the nation-wide lockdown was implemented, in May 2021 there were nearly 600,000 more Australians either unemployed or under-employed (+3.3% points) even though overall employment (13,069,000) is now higher than it was pre-COVID-19 (12,913,000).

Unemployment now lowest in NSW – but increases in all other States in May

Unemployment is now lowest in NSW and was down 1.9% points to 7.9% - the only State to see a fall in the measure in May. In all other States unemployment increased in line with the national result.

Victoria had an unemployment rate of 8.5% (up 0.6% points since April) and was also clearly under the national average although the figure for May doesn’t include the impact of the latest lockdown which is set to last at least two weeks.

Between them NSW and Victoria took the bulk of the $89 billion JobKeeper wage subsidy with $30 billion (33.8% of all funds) handed to NSW and $28.1 billion (31.7%) delivered to Victoria. This is no surprise given these two States comprise over 55% of the national economy but even so Federal Government’s COVID-19 payments per capita so far have been highest in Victoria ($6,760) and New South Wales ($6,409).

Queensland has had the third highest COVID-19 payments per capita at $5,787 but despite this now has the highest unemployment of any State at 15% (up 5.3% points from April). 

Unemployment increased in the smaller States in May and was up in Western Australia at 11.7% (up 3.7% points), South Australia at 12% (up 2.2% points) and Tasmania at 11.7% (up 1.7% points).

The driver of the increasing unemployment rates across these states was the fall in part-time employment which fell in the four largest States of NSW, Victoria, Queensland and Western Australia. In contrast, full-time employment increased in all five mainland States.

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

Source: Roy Morgan Single Source January 2019 – May 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 although the end of JobKeeper did not immediately presage a rise in unemployment the latest estimates for May show unemployment rising back above 10% and a new (and extended) lockdown in Melbourne raising further concerns:

“The latest Roy Morgan employment estimates for May show unemployment rising 1.3% points to 10.3% a month after the end of the $89 billion JobKeeper wage subsidy program. The fall in under-employment, down 0.7% points to 8.6%, meant overall labour under-utilisation was up 0.6% to 18.9% with 2.75 million Australians now unemployed or under-employed – almost 600,000 more than pre-COVID-19.

“Although the end of JobKeeper did not lead to an immediate rise in unemployment in April the withdrawal of the fortnightly payments to businesses puts the economy in a more vulnerable position to deal with any new outbreaks and associated lockdowns – as we are now seeing in Melbourne.

“There is some good news in the latest employment estimates with full-time jobs increasing for a seventh straight month for the first time ever (November 2020 – May 2021) to a record high of 8,679,000. The jobs growth over the last seven months has come as the economy recovered from Victoria’s long second wave of COVID-19 from June – October 2020.

“However, the latest outbreak and lockdown in Melbourne shows the recovery remains on a fragile footing until a sizeable majority of Australians, estimated at around 80% of the population, are vaccinated against COVID-19. Unfortunately, this is unlikely to happen for at least another six months.

“On a State-by-State basis NSW now has the lowest unemployment at 7.9% with Victoria the second lowest at 8.5% - although this was before the latest lockdown which is sure to put pressure on jobs that are no longer being supported by the JobKeeper wage subsidy.

“The lower unemployment in both NSW and Victoria is perhaps unsurprising when one considers that nearly two-thirds of the $89 billion JobKeeper wage subsidy payments went to either NSW ($30 billion) or Victoria ($28.1 billion) although these two States comprise only around 55% of the national economy.

“These figures are reflected in the Federal Government’s COVID-19 funding per capita which shows Victoria ($6,760) and NSW ($6,409) receiving the highest funding. This funding distribution makes sense as these two States, and particularly Victoria, have been hardest hit by the pandemic with over 85% of Australia’s 30,000 COVID-19 infections in either Victoria (20,600) or NSW (5,600).

“Although Treasurer Josh Frydenberg was rightly proud of the latest ABS Australian GDP estimates for the March quarter 2021 which showed the economy grew 1.8% in the first three months of this year and 1.1% over the 12 months to March 2021 there is still a long way to go before the Australian economy returns to a sustainable post-pandemic ‘normality’.”

This Roy Morgan survey on Australia’s unemployment and ‘under-employed’* is based on weekly interviews of 758,633 Australians aged 14 and over between January 2007 and May 2021 and includes 7,028 telephone and online interviews in May 2021. *The ‘under-employed’ are those people who are in part-time work or freelancers who are looking for more work.

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

April 2021

2,664 18.3 1,307 9.0 593 714 1,357 9.3
May 2021 2,749 18.9 1,493 10.3 558 935 1,256 8.6

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


Roy Morgan Research cf. ABS Unemployment Estimates

Source: Roy Morgan Single Source October 2006 – May 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

Source: Roy Morgan Single Source January 2000 – May 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 – May 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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