The unemployment rate has fallen to 5.6%, its lowest level since pandemic restrictions kicked in a year ago

  • Australia’s unemployment rate dipped 0.2 to 5.6% in March, its lowest rate since pandemic restrictions kicked in a year ago.
  • The unemployment rate was driven down 0.2 points from February levels thanks to the addition of 70,700 extra jobs.
  • But the Australian Bureau of Statistics acknowledges the loss of JobKeeper will be represented in next month’s figures.
  • Visit Business Insider Australia’s homepage for more stories.

Australia tacked on 70,700 extra jobs in March, driving unemployment down to 5.6% – and marking the lowest unemployment rate recorded by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) since coronavirus restrictions took hold a year ago.

In its latest labour force figures, released Thursday, the ABS reports the unemployment rate fell by 0.2 points in March.

It now rests just 0.4 points above its March 2020 level, before lockdowns constrained workplaces nationwide.

Youth unemployment remains extremely high at 11.8%, even if it dipped 1.1% from February levels.

The underemployment rate – classifying workers aged 15 and over who want more hours, and are available to take them on – also fell by 0.6 points to 7.9%.

The number of hours worked also continues to expand. All up, Australia’s workforce clocked an additional 38 million hours over the month, bringing the March total to 1.8 million hours – a stunning turnaround from the 1.59 million hours registered in the depths of May 2020.

Broadly, the latest figures speak to the relative strength of the Australian economy, which was shepherded through a pandemic-induced recession by extraordinary fiscal support.

But the labour market is not reclaiming every element of its pre-crisis character.

Over the year to March 2021, the share of employed Australians in part-time jobs grew 0.4 points to 32.1%.

In raw figures, the ABS recorded 76,800 extra part-time jobs last month compared to March 2020, while the number of full-time gigs decreased marginally, shedding 2,500 from its total.

The ABS acknowledges even deeper shocks to labour market figures could lie over the horizon.

The number of employed Australians working zero hours, due to the unavailability of work or being stood down, more than halved from February. Some 56,900 workers stood in that cohort over March.

That downturn is good news, to be sure.

But that figure may include zero-hour employees who claimed the JobKeeper allowance over March, whose roles were potentially rendered untenable when JobKeeper expired at the end of the month.

Australians will need to wait another month for ABS figures expressing how JobKeeper’s demise impacted the labour market – and if the nation ‘lost’ 150,000 jobs overnight, as forecast in a worst-case scenario from the Treasury Department.

In ways big and small, many vulnerable Australians are still struggling through post-lockdown life.

At least on paper – and at least for now – the story is one of remarkable recovery.

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