Roy Morgan Research
June 05, 2023

Australian unemployment drops to 8.4% in May – the lowest since September 2022 (8.1%)

Topic: Unemployment
Finding No: 9256
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In May unemployment dropped 0.1% points to 8.4%, according to the latest Roy Morgan employment series data – the fourth straight monthly drop. Unemployment is now at its lowest since COVID-19 restrictions lifted in late 2022.

However, there was a rise in under-employment in May, up 0.9% points to 9.8%, to its highest level this year. The rise in under-employment came as part-time employment increased to 4.86 million – a fourth straight month of increases.

The rising cost of living, with high inflation and increasing interest rates, are leading to more Australians in part-time employment needing to work more hours to earn a sufficient income. These people in part-time employment looking for more hours are considered under-employed – now nearly 10% of the workforce.

  • Employment was down in May, but still near record highs as part-time employment increased:

Australian employment was down 107,000 to 13,707,000 in May. The drop was due to a fall in full-time employment, down 215,000 to 8,843,000, while part-time employment was up 108,000 to 4,864,000.

  • Unemployment (full-time and part-time workers) dropped in May with fewer people looking for full-time and part-time work:

    1,258,000 Australians were unemployed (8.4% of the workforce) in May, a decrease of 28,000 from April with fewer people looking for full-time work, down 6,000 to 514,000 and fewer people looking for part-time work, down 22,000 to 744,000.
  • The workforce dropped to its lowest so far this year in May, but still up over 500,000 from a year ago:

The workforce in May was 14,965,000 (down 135,000 from April) – comprised of 13,707,000 employed Australians (down 107,000) and 1,258,000 unemployed Australians looking for work (down 28,000).

  • Overall unemployment and under-employment up 0.8% points in May to 18.2%:

In addition to the unemployed, 1.46 million Australians (9.8% of the workforce, up 0.9% points) were under-employed – working part-time but looking for more work, up 125,000 from April.

In total 2.72 million Australians (18.2% of the workforce) were either unemployed or under-employed in April, up by 97,000 from April.

Compared to early March 2020, before the nation-wide lockdown, in May 2023 there were more than 550,000 more Australians either unemployed or under-employed (+2.6% points) even though overall employment (13,707,000) is over 800,000 million higher than it was pre-COVID-19 (12,872,000).

Roy Morgan’s unemployment figure of 8.4% is more than double the ABS estimate of 3.7% for April and is comparable to the combined ABS unemployment and under-employment figure of 9.8%.

The latest monthly figures from the ABS indicate that the people working fewer hours in April 2023 (398,600) due to illness, injury or sick leave was around 58,000 higher than the pre-pandemic average of the five years to April 2019 (340,880) – a difference of 57,720.

If this higher than pre-pandemic average of workers (57,720) are added to the combined ABS unemployment and under-employment figure of 1,414,000 we find a total of 1,471,200 people could be considered unemployed or under-employed equivalent to 10.2% of the workforce.

Roy Morgan Unemployment & Under-employment (2019-2023)

Source: Roy Morgan Single Source January 2019 – May 2023. 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 unemployment has fallen for a fourth straight month in May and is now at its lowest since COVID-19 restrictions ended in October 2022:

Block Quote

“The latest Roy Morgan employment estimates for May show unemployment down 28,000 to 1,258,000 (8.4%, down 0.1% points). This is the fourth straight monthly decline and unemployment has dropped by a total of 349,000 (down 2.3% points) since peaking above 1.6 million in January.

“There are a further 1.46 million Australians now under-employed – 9.8% of the workforce. Overall unemployment and under-employment in May is now at 2.72 million (18.2% of the workforce). This is up slightly in May but down by 280,000 from the recent peak above 3 million reached in January 2023.

“Putting these figures into a broader context shows the huge changes in the Australian labour markets over the last year as immigration into Australia surged following the removal of most COVID-19 border restrictions just over a year ago.

“Compared to a year ago the Australian population has increased by over 600,000, the Australian workforce has increased by just over 550,000 and total employment has increased by over 460,000 compared to May 2022. These increases are more than double the usual annual movements in these indicators and clearly demonstrate the effect of higher-than-average immigration into Australia on the labour market in the pandemic period – everything is up on a year ago.

“Apart from the surge in immigration the key factor influencing the Australian economy at the moment is inflation and the increases in interest rates designed to reduce it. The RBA has increased interest rates on 11 occasions since May 2022 to 3.85% – the highest interest rates since May 2012.

“The latest ABS monthly inflation figures for April 2023 show inflation is still present in the Australian economy – with prices rising 6.8% from a year ago. This is likely to keep pressure on the RBA to continue to increase interest rates in the next few months.

“The big news over the last week was the increase to the minimum wage by the Fair Work Commission (FWC). The FWC increased the minimum wage by 8.6 per cent to $883 per week while workers on an award rate will receive an increase of 5.75 per cent. The increase to the award wage will impact over a fifth of Australian workers while less than 1% of workers are on the minimum wage.

“The increase to the award wage will be a tough challenge for those employers most impacted by rising inflation and interest rates, but to be fair, the increase is at less than the rate of inflation – most recently measured by the ABS at 6.8% in the year to April 2023.

“The Albanese Government’s first Federal Budget delivered last month by Treasurer Jim Chalmers has been relatively well received with most economists agreeing it will have little impact on inflation rates. The increase to JobSeeker payments was balanced by the elimination of the ‘LMITO’ (low and middle-income earner tax offset) which provided significant rebates for many taxpayers.

“The Australian economy is finely balanced at the moment with a surge in employment accompanied by high inflation, and interest rates still rising as they work their way through the economy.

“Looking forward Australians will be hoping the Federal Government and the RBA are able to ensure the economy continues to grow despite these pressures and the employment markets continue to show the strength they have shown over the last year.”

Roy Morgan Unemployed and ‘Under-employed’* Estimates

  Unemployed or


Unemployed Unemployed looking for ‘Under-employed’*
Full-time Part-time
2022 ‘000 % ‘000 % ‘000 ‘000 ‘000 %
Jan-Mar 2022 2,380 16.4 1,187 8.2 438 749 1,193 8.2
Apr-Jun 2022 2,467 17.0 1,235 8.5 482 753 1,232 8.5
Jul-Sep 2022 2,657 17.9 1,270 8.6 540 730 1,387 9.3
Oct-Dec 2022 2,792 19.4 1,361 9.2 542 819 1,431 9.6
Jan-Mar 2023 2,883 19.2 1,513 10.1 595 918 1,371 9.1
April 2022 2,641 18.1 1,411 9.7 559 852 1,230 8.4
May 2022 2,408 16.7 1,169 8.1 477 692 1,239 8.6
June 2022 2,351 16.3 1,125 7.8 409 716 1,226 8.5
July 2022 2,516 17.1 1,246 8.5 494 752 1,270 8.6
August 2022 2,692 18.1 1,363 9.2 592 771 1,329 8.9
September 2022 2,764 18.6 1,202 8.1 535 667 1,562 10.5
October 2022 2,916 19.7 1,362 9.2 525 837 1,554 10.5
November 2022 2,715 18.2 1,338 9.0 506 832 1,377 9.2
December 2022 2,745 18.4 1,384 9.3 595 789 1,361 9.1
January 2023 3,033 20.2 1,607 10.7 644 963 1,426 9.5
February 2023 2,888 19.2 1,521 10.1 602 919 1,367 9.1
March 2023 2,729 18.2 1,410 9.4 539 871 1,319 8.8
April 2023 2,626 17.4 1,286 8.5 520 766 1,340 8.9
May 2023 2,723 18.2 1,258 8.4 514 744 1,465 9.8

*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 interviews of 905,788 Australians aged 14 and over between January 2007 and May 2023 and includes 5,938 telephone and online interviews in May 2023. *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.

For further information:

Gary Morgan:+61 3 9224 5213+61 411 129 094
Michele Levine:+61 3 9224 5215+61 411 129 093

Roy Morgan Research cf. ABS Unemployment Estimates

Source: Roy Morgan Single Source October 2006 – May 2023. 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 2023. 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 2023. Average monthly interviews 4,000.
Note: Roy Morgan unemployment estimates are actual data while the ABS estimates are seasonally adjusted.


The Roy Morgan Unemployment estimate is obtained by surveying an Australia-wide cross section of people aged 14+. A person is classified as unemployed if they are looking for work, no matter when. The results are not seasonally adjusted and provide an accurate measure of monthly unemployment estimates in Australia.

Households selected for the ABS Survey are interviewed each month for eight months, with one-eighth of the sample being replaced each month. The first interview is conducted face-to-face. Subsequent interviews are then conducted by telephone.

The ABS classifies a person as unemployed if, when surveyed, they have been actively looking for work in the four weeks up to the end of the reference week and if they were available for work in the reference week.

The ABS classifies a person as employed if, when surveyed, a person worked for one hour or more during the reference week for pay, profit, commission or payment in kind, or even if a person worked for one hour or more without pay in a family business or on a farm.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics Unemployment estimates are also seasonally adjusted.

For these reasons the Australian Bureau of Statistics Unemployment estimates are different from the Roy Morgan Unemployment estimate. Gary Morgan's concerns regarding the ABS Unemployment estimate is clearly outlined in a 2012 letter to the Australian Financial Review, which was not published.

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
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