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Jobless rate falls but end of JobKeeper looms

The Hunter Business Chamber has welcomed improvements in regional unemployment levels but warned they could prove short-lived with JobKeeper due to end on Sunday.

Regional labour force data for February issued today by the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows a continued improvement in Hunter figures, with the overall unemployment rate dropping from 7.6 per cent to 4.3 per cent in the Newcastle and Lake Macquarie statistical area, and a more modest fall of 0.1 per cent to 3.5 per cent in the remainder of the Hunter Valley.

However, with the end of JobKeeper predicted to bring anywhere between 100,000 and 250,000 job losses nationally, Chamber CEO Bob Hawes said the employment outlook remained unpredictable.

“We hope that the impact of JobKeeper ending is minimal and that most businesses in our area are now in a position to transition off the scheme, if they haven’t already,” Mr Hawes said.

“But the reality is that the loss of the subsidy will put a financial squeeze on businesses that are still recovering from COVID and reducing their payroll may be the only way for them to stay afloat.

“Some of those businesses may also be contending with deferred rent or loan payments falling due, putting added pressure on their operating budgets.”

Mr Hawes said the labour force figures showed some positive indications of improved business conditions, including a significant increase in fulltime jobs in Newcastle and Lake Macquarie, with about 8,000 positions created in February.

“The fact that businesses are looking to put on fulltime workers or convert existing employees to fulltime positions suggests a level of confidence that will hopefully withstand the end of JobKeeper,” Mr Hawes said.

Youth unemployment in Newcastle and Lake Macquarie dropped from 20.6 per cent to 5.8 per cent based on the raw data, and rose from 6.7 per cent to 9.7 per cent in the Hunter Valley – although the monthly regional youth figures are typically unreliable, due to sample size.

An annual average suggests youth unemployment is still tracking highly in the region, with figures of 19.5 per cent (Newcastle and Lake Macquarie) and 14.6 per cent (Hunter Valley), compared with a statewide rate of 14.1 per cent.

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