February 17, 2020

Over 2.5 million Australians looking for work entering 2020

Topic: Public Opinion, Special Poll, Unemployment
Finding No: 8283
RMR Logo

Latest data for the Roy Morgan employment series shows:

In January over 1.36 million Australians were unemployed (9.7% of the workforce), with an additional 1.23 million (8.7% of the workforce) now under-employed.

  • The workforce in January was a record high 14,067,000 – comprised of 12,706,000 employed Australians and 1,361,000 unemployed Australians who are looking for work. The total includes a year-on-year increase of 417,000. The growth was driven by significant increases in both employment and unemployment compared to this time a year ago;
  • The number of Australians in employment was up 309,000 from a year ago to 12,706,000 in January 2020. This was driven by a significant increase in full-time employment of 344,000 to 8,601,000, partly offset by a drop of 35,000 in part-time employment to 4,105,000;
  • Unemployment, the number of Australians looking for work, was up 108,000 on a year ago, to 1,361,000, and the unemployment rate was up by 0.5% points to 9.7%. In contrast, under-employment, Australians working part-time and looking for more work, is now 8.7% of the workforce or 1,225,000 people (down 75,000, or 0.8%);
  • Roy Morgan’s unemployment figure of 9.7% for January is higher than the current ABS estimate for December 2019 of 5.1%. Roy Morgan’s under-employment estimate of 8.7% is also marginally higher than the current ABS under-employment estimate of 8.3%;
  • Although Roy Morgan’s total unemployment and under-employment of 2,586,000 Australians (18.4% of the workforce) in January, up 33,000 on a year ago, is larger than figures usually estimated, the biennial ABS survey the ‘Barriers and Incentives to Labour Force Participation’, last released in late 2017, claimed that 2.7 million Australians would like a job or to work more hours – including 1.1 million people who wanted a job but were excluded from the Labour Force.

(There is a detailed explanation of the differences between Roy Morgan and ABS figures and methodologies below.)

Michele Levine, CEO Roy Morgan, says the Australian workforce has now expanded beyond 14 million, however the growth is driven by increases in both employment and unemployment:

Block Quote

“Roy Morgan’s latest data shows the Australian workforce passing 14 million for the first time in January. This represents 67.1% of Australians aged 14+. Over the last two decades there has been a consistent increase in the proportion of Australians in the workforce, up from 60.7% of working age Australians in January 2000.

“The engagement of a larger slice of the Australian population explains why both employment and unemployment have been able to increase simultaneously during this period. Over those two decades, employment has increased from 8.3 million to 12.7 million – a jump of 4.4 million while unemployment has increased from 980,000 to 1.36 million – up 380,000.

“The results show that while the Australian economy is consistently generating new jobs – an average of over 18,000 new jobs per month over two decades – the workforce has grown at an average of just under 20,000 per month. This gap of around 1,500 per month represents those joining the workforce but not finding a job – the unemployed.

“The natural disasters which have struck Australia so far in 2020 are a significant challenge and provide a short-term negative shock for employment growth. However the recovery process to rebuild communities and destroyed infrastructure will provide employment opportunities in the months to come.

“The impact of the coronavirus from Australia’s largest trading partner China is harder to quantify. The threat from the coronavirus has already impacted Australia’s substantial tourism and education sectors and may have a growing impact on manufacturers, retailers and other industries that rely on China for the importation of parts and finished goods over the next few months.”

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.

Source: Roy Morgan Single Source October 2005 – January 2020. Average monthly interviews 4,000.

This Roy Morgan survey on Australia’s unemployment and under-employed’* is based on weekly face-to-face interviews of 661,629 Australians aged 14 and over between January 2007 and January 2020, and includes 3,983 face-to-face interviews in January 2020. *The ‘under-employed’ are those people who are in part-time work or freelancers who are looking for more work.

Visit the Roy Morgan Online Store to purchase employment profiles including for Australians who are employedunemployedunder-employedemployed part-timeemployed full-timeretiredstudying and many more.

Roy Morgan Unemployed and ‘Under-employed’* Estimates

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

For further information:

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

Unemployment Data Tables


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

Related Findings

Back to topBack To Top Arrow