Australia posts surprise fall in unemployment despite strict coronavirus lockdown


Australia’s unemployment rate has posted a surprise fall despite strict lockdown measures in the nation’s second biggest state.

According to data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) on Thursday, the unemployment rate was 6.8 percent in August, down from a 22-year high 7.5 percent in July.

The data has come as a shock after economists predicted the rate would rise to 7.7 percent as a result of “stage four” coronavirus restrictions in Victoria.

Responding to the figures, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said they showed that the Australian economy was resilient.

“We recognize that despite this fall today in Australia’s official unemployment rate, many Australians are doing it tough, and the road to recovery will be long,” he told reporters.

“The effective unemployment rate, which takes into account not just those who are unemployed officially, but those who have left the labor force or seen their hours reduced to zero, has fallen from 9.8 percent to 9.3 percent. But it still remains high.”

The ABS said that the number of Australians employed on a full-time basis rose by 36,200 to 8.58 million and part-time employment increased 74,800 to almost 4 million people.

However, the number of hours worked by Australians increased by only 0.1 percent from July and remained 5.1 percent lower than in August 2019.

“Employment rose almost 1 percent but hours worked rose by a more modest 0.1 percent. Hours fell by 4.8 percent in Victoria, compared to a 1.8 percent increase across the rest of Australia.” Bjorn Jarvis, the head of Labour Statistics at the ABS, said in a statement.

“The weaker increase in hours worked has also been reflected in the strength of the increase in part-time employment between May and August, which has been almost eight times greater than the increase in full-time employment.”

Victoria was the only state or territory to record an increase in unemployment to 7.1 percent in August with 42,400 jobs lost in the state.

“The August data provides insights into the labour market impacts from the stage four restrictions in Victoria,” Jarvis said.

The data was released three weeks after Frydenberg published Treasury’s July unemployment analysis, which warned that effective unemployment would surpass 13 percent by the end of 2020.

“We know the road to recovery will be bumpy as we have seen with the setback in Victoria, however, the jobs recovery across the rest of the country gives cause for optimism that through containing the spread of the virus and reopening the economy we will get through this,” Frydenberg said at the time.

“There is still a long way to go through this crisis and high frequency data is showing signs that the jobs recovery may be slowing as state border closures have been tightened.”

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