April 08, 2020

Extra 1.4 million Australians out of work in wake of COVID-19 pandemic – 3.92 million (27.4% of workforce) now unemployed or under-employed

Topic: Press Release, Unemployment
Finding No: 8363
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The COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic hit the Australian economy hard in mid-March when Australia’s Federal, State and Territory Governments began introducing restrictive social distancing and self-isolation rules to stop the spread of the infectious virus.

The early signs on the new restrictions are good from a public health perspective as the rate of new cases has substantially reduced over since restrictions began to be introduced in mid-March. However, the restrictions have also had a huge impact on the employment situation of many Australians – particularly in customer focused industries such as hospitality and retail businesses that have largely shut-down.

  • Unemployment for March as a whole was 1.72 million (12.2%) and under-employment was 1.33 million (9.4%) but this obscures the huge change to the Australian economy that took place in mid-March;
  • In the first half of March unemployment was 1.02 million (7.3%) with under-employment of 1.14 million (8.2%). A total of 2.16 million (15.6%), an improvement on February as Australia emerged from a summer of devastating bushfires;
  • However in late March these numbers climbed dramatically as many businesses were forced to shut-down under the new restrictions;
  • Unemployment for the second half of March jumped a staggering 1.4 million to 2.4 million (16.8%) and under-employment increased 374,000 to 1.52 million (10.6%);
  • In total a record high 3.92 million (27.4%) of Australians were either unemployed or under-employed and looking for more work in the second half of March;
  • This is far more Australians looking for work than was the case during the last recession in 1990/91.

Michele Levine, CEO Roy Morgan, says the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic is the biggest shock to the Australian economy, and workforce, since World War II – well beyond living memory for the vast majority of Australians:

Block Quote

“The Australian employment market appeared well on the road to recovery in early March as the summer of bushfires receded and Australians got ready to rebuild communities devastated across many Australian States.

“However, what started as a hit to the education and travel industries when flights from China were banned on February 1, quickly emerged as a serious threat to Australia’s economy in early March. The rapid responses of Governments around Australia to enforce tough new guidelines on social distancing and self-isolating has significantly reduced the spread of the virus through the community but at the same time delivered a hammer blow to the employment fortunes of many Australians.

“A record 3.92 million Australians are now looking for work or looking for more work – over a quarter of Australia’s 14.3 million strong workforce. Unemployment more than doubled in a matter of days, up by a staggering 1.4 million to 2.4 million in the second half of March compared to the first.

“The Federal Government’s announcement of the $130 billion ‘JobKeeper’ wage subsidy scheme offering to provide many of the hardest hit businesses with a flat $1,500 fortnightly payment to pay their employees over the next six months has provided increased certainty for many Australians.

“The ‘JobKeeper’ plan was announced on Monday March 30 and the first ANZ-Roy Morgan Consumer Confidence Rating taken since the announcement showed a record bounce in the index which closely tracks consumer sentiment of 10.1% (up 6.6pts) to 71.9 – up from a record low of 65.3.

“The results from today’s Roy Morgan March employment and unemployment estimates show the value of timely data closely tracking the employment statuses of Australian workers. In this uncertain time with many Australians unsure when they will be able to resume their previous employment, it is vital for Governments and policy-makers dealing with the fallout to have the most up-to-date data on the state of the labour market to make the right decisions.”

Latest data for the Roy Morgan employment series for late March shows nearly 2.4 million Australians were unemployed (16.7% of the workforce), with an additional 1.47 million (10.3% of the workforce) now under-employed.

  • The workforce in late March was a record high 14,302,000 – comprised of 11,895,000 employed and 2,407,000 unemployed Australians looking for work. The workforce total has increased 411,000 since early March as unemployment has swelled;
  • The number of Australians in employment in late March plummeted 977,000 from early March to 11,895,000. Full-time employment was down 745,000 to 7,737,000 and part-time employed dropped 232,000 to 4,158,000;
  • Australians looking for work more than doubled in the second half of March for both full-time and part-time work. The number looking for full-time work increased by 558,000 to 960,000 and the number looking for part-time work was up by 830,000 to 1,447,000;
  • Roy Morgan’s unemployment figure of 16.8% for late March is now over three times higher than the current (pre-pandemic) ABS estimate for February 2020 of 5.1%The ABS figure for March is set to be released next Thursday April 16, 2020 and as part of their monthly estimates they must provide data relevant to both early March (pre shut-downs) and late March (post shut-downs).

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
Months      
January 2019 2,553 18.7 1,253 9.2 597 656 1,300 9.5
February 2019 2,448 18.2 1,292 9.6 606 686 1,156 8.6
March 2019 2,812 20.6 1,491 10.9 731 760 1,321 9.7
April 2019 2,381 17.7 1,202 8.9 599 603 1,179 8.8
May 2019 2,559 18.4 1,325 9.5 674 651 1,234 8.9
June 2019 2,529 18.6 1,254 9.2 605 649 1,275 9.4
July 2019 2,480 18.3 1,182 8.7 526 656 1,298 9.6
August 2019 2,130 15.8 1,179 8.7 454 725 951 7.1
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

*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 671,486 Australians aged 14 and over between January 2007 and March 2020, and includes 5,950 face-to-face, telephone and online interviews in March 2020 including 2,951 face-to-face interviews in the first half of March until March 15 and 2,999 interviews conducted online and via telephone for the second half after March 15. *The ‘under-employed’ are those people who are in part-time work or freelancers who are looking for more work.

For further information:

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

Unemployment Data Tables

ROY MORGAN MEASURES REAL UNEMPLOYMENT IN AUSTRALIA
NOT THE ‘PERCEPTION’ OF UNEMPLOYMENT – JUNE 8, 2012

The Roy Morgan Unemployment estimate is obtained by surveying an Australia-wide cross section by face-to-face interviews. 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.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics Unemployment estimates are obtained by mostly telephone interviews. 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 his 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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