Roy Morgan Research
September 11, 2023

Real unemployment up to 11% in August – over 3 million are either unemployed or under-employed

Topic: Unemployment
Finding No: 9328
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In August real unemployment increased 1.9% to 11% - an estimated 1.7 million Australians, according to the latest Roy Morgan employment series data. This is the highest rate of unemployment for over two years since March 2021 during the middle of the pandemic.

The August Roy Morgan Unemployment estimate was 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 real unemployment rate is presented as a percentage of the workforce (employed & unemployed).

  • Employment decreased in August driven by a fall in full-time employment:
    Australian employment fell by 132,000 to 13,648,000 in August. The decrease was due to a fall in full-time employment, down 274,000 to 8,796,000, although there was an increase in part-time employment which was up 142,000 to 4,852,000.
  • Unemployment increased in August with significantly more people looking for both full-time and part-time work:
    In August 1,686,000 Australians were unemployed (11% of the workforce), an increase of 305,000 from July - more people looking for full-time work (up 67,000 to 660,000) and more people looking for part-time work (up a large 238,000 to 1,026,000) – both at their highest since March quarter 2021.
  • The workforce increased by almost 500,000 from a year ago to over 15.3 million people:
    The workforce in August was 15,334,000 (up 173,000 from July, but up a massive 484,000 from a year ago) – comprised of 13,648,000 employed Australians (down 132,000 from a month ago) and 1,686,000 unemployed Australians looking for work (up 305,000).
  • Overall unemployment and under-employment up 1.5% points in August to 20.1%:
    In addition to the unemployed, 1.4 million Australians (9.1% of the workforce) were under-employed, i.e. working part-time but looking for more work, down 37,000 from July.
    In total 3.08 million Australians (20.1% of the workforce) were either unemployed or under-employed in August, up by 268,000 from July.

Compared to early March 2020, before the nation-wide lockdown, in August 2023 there were more than 900,000 more Australians either unemployed or under-employed (+4.5% points) even though overall employment (13,640,000) is almost 800,000 higher than it was pre-COVID-19 (12,872,000).

ABS Comparison

Roy Morgan’s unemployment figure of 11% is almost triple the ABS estimate of 3.7% for July but is in line with the combined ABS unemployment and under-employment figure of 10.1%.

The latest monthly figures from the ABS indicate that the people working fewer hours in July 2023 due to illness, injury or sick leave was 566,400. This is around 127,500 higher than the pre-pandemic average of the six years to July 2019 (438,930) – a difference of 127,470.

If this higher than pre-pandemic average of workers (127,470) are added to the combined ABS unemployment and under-employment figure of 1,479,000 we find a total of 1,606,470 people could be considered unemployed or under-employed equivalent to 11.0% of the workforce – and matching the latest monthly Roy Morgan unemployment estimate.

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

Source: Roy Morgan Single Source January 2019 – August 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 was up 1.9% to 11% in August with more people looking for both full-time and part-time jobs compared to a month ago:

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“The latest Roy Morgan employment estimates for August show 1,686,000 Australians were unemployed – this is 305,000 more unemployed Australians than July. There were more people looking for both full-time jobs (up 67,000 to 660,000) and part-time jobs (up 238,000 to 1,026,000) in August. These are the highest figures for these metrics for over two years since March quarter 2021.

“In addition, there are a further 1,397,000 Australians now under-employed – 9.1% of the workforce. Overall, 3.08 million Australians were unemployed or under-employed (20.1% of the workforce) in August. This is the highest overall unemployment and under-employment since January 2021 during the middle of the pandemic at 3.12 million (21.7% of the workforce).

“We have highlighted for months now that there’s been a rapid increase in the Australian population over the last year, a record increase of 706,000, and this has flowed through into a rapidly expanding labour market. The Australian workforce increased by 484,000 compared to August last year.

“However, although there have been many new jobs created compared to a year ago, the rapid workforce growth has outpaced the economy’s job creation as we deal with high inflation and rising interest rates. Overall employment is up by 161,000 compared to a year ago while unemployment has increased by 323,000.

“In addition to 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 12 occasions since May 2022 to 4.1%.

“The good news is that the RBA appears to have finished its interest rate hiking cycle after leaving interest rates unchanged for a third month in a row in September– the first time they have done this since beginning their interest rate increasing cycle just over a year ago.

“The latest official monthly inflation figures for the year to July 2023 show inflation dropping to an annual rate of 4.9% – the lowest it has been since February 2022 (also 4.9%).

“This is down from a peak of 8.4% in the monthly annual rate for December 2022 – a decline of 3.5% points in seven months. At this rate of decline of 0.5% points per month inflation will be in the middle of the RBA’s target band of 2-3% by the end of the year.

“New RBA Governor Michele Bullock takes charge of the central bank next week as Australia’s first female Governor and with the latest inflation figures trending in the right direction Governor Bullock will be hoping this trend continues as she undertakes to lead the bank through this challenging period.”.

This Roy Morgan survey on Australia’s unemployment and ‘under-employed’* is based on weekly interviews of 925,201 Australians aged 14 and over between January 2007 and August 2023 and includes 6,029 telephone and online interviews in August 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.

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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