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Queensland’s Unemployment Rate Continued to Fall Spectacularly in June as Concerns Around Regional Skills Shortages Increase

4 Aug 2021 12:53 PM | Dr Marcus Smith

Labour Force data published by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) for June 2021 showed that the number of employed persons in Queensland was around 235,000 greater than in June last year on a seasonally adjusted basis, with the number of unemployed persons around 61,500 less.

The statistics further revealed that Queensland’s headline unemployment rate continued to fall to 5.1% in June on a seasonally adjusted basis, which is at the lowest level since June 2012.

The statistics also show that more people have become engaged within the state’s work force over the year, with the number of employed persons as a proportion of the state’s population rising from 58.3% to 63.2% year on year to June and the participation rate of the state’s working aged also increasing from 63.3% to 66.7%.

The ABS release monthly, Detailed Labour Force statistics for regions across the state at the Statistical Area 4 (SA4) level, however, the data is only provided in original terms that is not statistically adjusted to account for sampling error and seasonal factors over different times of the year.

Each month, however, Conus/CBC Staff Selection produce a trend and seasonally adjusted series for each of the SA4 regions. While trend measures are also a preferred measure to report labour force statistics, the publishing of trend series data remains suspended by the ABS due to the COVID pandemic.

Accordingly, the Conus/CBC Staff Selection Employment data provides seasonally adjusted labour force series for each of the SA4 regions generated from the ABS original data.  Year-on-year comparisons to June provides an indication of how both the number of employed and unemployed persons has changed over the year for each region in the state.

The data shows that jobless rates also vary considerably across individual regions compared with the headline unemployment rate for Queensland of 5.1% in June on a seasonally adjusted basis.

Unemployment rates typically vary quite substantially within each region, the reason for such is complex with many factors such as demographics, industry composition and sectoral shifts, productivity as well as whether it is structural or frictional unemployment.

Nevertheless, what policy makers including the Reserve Bank of Australia are interested in is achieving what is referred to as ‘full employment’ or a ‘natural rate of unemployment’, which is the lowest rate of unemployment whereby inflation is stable or non-accelerating (Non-Accelerating Inflation Rate of Unemployment, NAIRU).

What makes estimating this level of unemployment problematic is that it is constantly changing over time.

With the level of unemployment in Queensland falling sharply, together with job vacancies at historical highs, it is not surprising that anecdotal evidence has been emerging that some regions and industries are facing skills shortages and difficulties finding staff.

The most recent Australian Government Skills Priority List released for June 2021 provides a detailed analysis of shortages by occupation and state in addition to indicating if shortages are located within regional areas in particular.

With a view to gleaning some insight into how relatively tight labour markets are across the state indicative of their current jobless rates, the following table provides a statistical analysis of the Conus/CBC Staff Selection Employment seasonally adjusted data to determine the average unemployment rate for the samples of each region to compare to the current level.

The analysis indicates that regions with jobless rates significantly lower than the historical average include Brisbane East, Brisbane North, Brisbane Inner City, Moreton Bay North, Cairns, Gold Coast, Mackay, Sunshine Coast, Toowoomba, Townsville, and Wide Bay.  

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