• Hunter Business Chamber

Unemployment figures hide true impact of COVID

Regional labour force figures released today by the Australian Bureau of Statistics paint a grim picture of unemployment in the Hunter, but the Hunter Business Chamber has warned the real picture is likely to be worse than the statistics suggest.

The April figures show nearly 10,000 jobs have been lost in one month in Newcastle and Lake Macquarie and 8,400 across the remainder of the Hunter Valley.

The release of regional statistics follows last week’s announcement of national and state figures, which showed the national unemployment rate had risen from 5.2 to 6.2 per cent in March, and the NSW rate from 4.8 to 6 per cent.

“As analysts pointed out last week, the April figures do not account for the impact of JobKeeper and the fact that many people who are receiving the wage subsidy are out of work but not actively seeking a job, so have not registered as unemployed,” Hunter Business Chamber CEO Bob Hawes said.

“We suggested a month ago that about 19,000 jobs had been lost across the Hunter region in the eight weeks between 15 February and 4 April, based on Business NSW analysis of jobs and wages data. Today’s statistics bear that out, but I suspect the figure is actually greater as we know that there has been a significant drop in workforce participation, with a spike in underemployment.

"Working hours fell by over 9 per cent across NSW in April, suggesting about one in 10 people are no longer working.”

The ABS figures indicate that COVID-19 has hit business harder in Newcastle and Lake Macquarie, with the general unemployment figure rising from 5.8 to 7.7 per cent across that statistical area in April, compared with a much smaller increase from 5.0 to 5.3 per cent in the Hunter Valley.

“While nearly all industries have been adversely affected by the pandemic, the relative ongoing strength of the mining sector may be one factor supporting jobs in the valley, especially in the Upper Hunter,” Mr Hawes said.

“Of major concern is the rise in youth unemployment, which now sits at 18.7 per cent in Newcastle and Lake Macquarie and 15.7 per cent in the Hunter Valley.

“The loss of jobs in the younger age groups confirms the impact of restrictions on accommodation and food services, arts and recreation, traditionally sectors that employ young people,” Mr Hawes said.

“There is some light on the horizon, however, with ABS data released on Tuesday collected through the Single Touch Payroll system indicating that the labour market may be near a turning point with wages and jobs fall flattening out.”

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