JobKeeper is the best gig some young people have ever had, with Australians under 20 seeing a 5.4% pay rise in May

Young Australians have one of the few winners at the onset of this recessions. (James D. Morgan, Getty Images)

Hundreds of thousands of jobs may have been wiped off the face of the earth, but there’s at least one group of Australians who have found themselves a little better off.

The latest ABS payroll figures show that despite being one of the hardest-hit demographics, there’s a silver lining for the youngest generation of workers.

“Younger workers on JobKeeper though have reason to smile. Total wages paid to those under 20 has increased by 5.4% since March 14, despite a 16.5% decline in payrolls across that age group,” Indeed Asia-Pacific economist Callam Pickering said.

“Since JobKeeper is a fixed payment, awarded to workers regardless of what they are normally paid, there has been a small group that are now paid much more than they were before the crisis.”

The data, of course, betrays the reality of what the young demographic has had to deal with, representing a disproportionate number of the casual workforce, as well as those in the battered retail and hospitality sectors.

It makes them, paradoxically, the group to both suffer the worst job losses and enjoy the greatest pay rise – a sentence only made possible by the strangeness of the currently emerging recession.

That’s not to gloss over the fact either that their wages are amongst the only ones low enough that $1,500 a fortnight would be a sizeable improvement. Nevertheless, an effective 5.4% pay rise is nothing to scoff at given Australian wages at the best of times were only creeping up around 2% per annum.

This young segment of the workforce has thus proven one of the few winners produced by the first recession to strike Australia since their parents were their age. Coincidentally, it’s many of their parents who haven’t done so badly either on balance.

“The COVID-19 crisis has really redefined how we interpret economic data. The 3.9% decline in payrolls among those aged 50-59 is horrendous but almost seems okay given the carnage experienced by other age groups,” Pickering said.

The other victors have been just as surprising.

“Remarkably, payrolls in finance and utilities are higher than they were pre-crisis,” Pickering said. “Although perhaps the biggest surprise is the relatively small decline in manufacturing and wholesale trade jobs. These two sectors are often quite sensitive to changes in economic conditions.”

While small declines in the wages you depend on to live are typically not cause for celebration, it’s all relative. Other groups have not been so lucky.

“Payrolls for women have fallen by 8% since March 14, compared with a 6.3% decline for men. For women under 20, one-in-five have lost their jobs versus one-in-eight for young men,” Pickering said.

While overall payrolls rose 1% in May — amounting to nearly 125,000 more jobs — they remain 7.5% down since the business shutdown began. Taken as a whole, it would suggest around one million jobs have been lost in total.

Nor will the recovery be easy.

“The COVID-19 crisis will leave a long and lingering shadow over the Australian economy, with the damage caused to households and businesses considerable and not easily overcome,” Pickering said.

“This suggests that fiscal support will need to remain in place, perhaps longer than planned, to support job creation this year and beyond.”

But as businesses reopen and with the economy on track to be up and running by July, the very worst appears to at least be behind us.

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