Roy Morgan Research
March 19, 2024

Australian unemployment virtually unchanged in February; but the workforce continues to surge – up by over 600,000 from a year ago

Topic: Unemployment
Finding No: 9498
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In February 2024 Australian ‘real’ unemployment was virtually unchanged at 1,436,000 (9.2% of the workforce) and an additional 1,501,000 (9.6%) were under-employed. In total a massive 2.94 million Australians (18.8%) were unemployed or under-employed in February.

Although unemployment and under-employment remain high, there has been a surge in employment over the last year – up by 711,000 to 14,228,000 – the first month total employment has exceeded 14.2 million.

The February Roy Morgan Unemployment estimates were 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 reaches new record high at over 14.2 million in February:

Australian employment increased 78,000 to 14,228,000 in February. Full-time employment drove the increase, up 154,000 to a new record high of 9,359,000 while part-time employment dropped 76,000 to 4,869,000.

  • Unemployment increased in February with 54,000 more looking for work:

In February 1,436,000 Australians were unemployed (9.2% of the workforce), an increase of 54,000 from January. There were 833,000 (down 44,000) looking for part-time work and 603,000 (up 98,000) now looking for full-time work.

  • The workforce increased by over 600,000 from a year ago to over 15.6 million people:

The workforce in February was 15,664,000 (up 132,000 from January, and up a massive 626,000 from a year ago) – comprised of 14,228,000 employed Australians (up 78,000 from a month ago) and 1,436,000 unemployed Australians looking for work (up 54,000).

  • Overall unemployment and under-employment down 0.5% points in February to 18.8%:

In addition to the unemployed, a further 1.5 million Australians (9.6% of the workforce) were under-employed, i.e. working part-time but looking for more work, down 117,000 from January. In total 2.94 million Australians (18.8% of the workforce) were either unemployed or under-employed in February.

Compared to early March 2020, before the nation-wide lockdown, in February 2024 there were almost 800,000 more Australians either unemployed or under-employed (+3.2% points) even though overall employment (14,228,000) is over 1.3 million higher than it was pre-COVID-19 (12,872,000).

ABS Comparison

Roy Morgan’s unemployment figure of 9.2% is more than double the ABS estimate of 4.1% for January but is approaching the combined ABS unemployment and under-employment figure of 10.7%.

The latest monthly figures from the ABS indicate that the people working fewer hours in January 2024 due to illness, injury or sick leave was 316,600. This is around 57,000 higher than the pre-pandemic average of the six years to January 2020 (260,000) – a difference of 56,600.

If this higher than pre-pandemic average of workers (56,600) is added to the combined ABS unemployment and under-employment figure of 1,585,000 we find a total of 1,641,400 people could be considered unemployed or under-employed, equivalent to 11.1% of the workforce.

Roy Morgan Unemployment & Under-employment (2019-2024)

Source: Roy Morgan Single Source January 2019 – February 2024. 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 total Australian unemployment or under-employment dropped in February but has now averaged 3 million (19.4% of the workforce) for the last six months, up from 2.83 million (18.7%) for the previous six months:

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“The latest Roy Morgan employment estimates for February show total Australian unemployment or under-employment down 73,000 to 2,937,000 (18.8% of the workforce) – the lowest combined figure since September 2023 (2,893,000, 18.9%).

“’Real’ unemployment was 1,436,000 (9.2% of the workforce) while under-employment decreased to 1,501,000 (9.6%). Longer-term trends show that total Australian unemployment or under-employment averaged 3 million over the last six months compared to 2.84 million over the previous six months before that, indicating a sustained rise in labour under-utilisation.

“The biggest driver is the high population growth which has grown by 761,000 from a year ago – more double the annual average over the last 25 years of 284,000 – which has led to increases in all the key labour force statistics compared to a year ago.

“Over the last year the workforce grew by 626,000 to over 15.6 million and total employment was up 711,000 to over 14.2 million. Employment growth over the last year has grown at more than three times the 25-year annual average of 230,000. The growth has been tilted towards full-time employment, up 410,000 to a record high of 9,359,000 while part-time employment grew 301,000 to 4,869,000.

“The sustained increase in labour-underutilisation in recent months shows the labour market is struggling to provide the right jobs for all those joining the workforce. Tackling this continuing high level of unemployment and under-employment must be the number one priority for the Federal Government over the next year heading into the next election due in early 2025.

This Roy Morgan survey on Australia’s unemployment and ‘under-employed’* is based on weekly interviews of 961,094 Australians aged 14 and over between January 2007 and February 2024 and includes 5,982 telephone and online interviews in February 2024. *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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