Why it's a good thing when Australia creates more female part-time jobs

Getty/Cameron Spencer

Markets were a little nonplussed when Australia’s March jobs data was released recently.

Even though the increase in total employment printed a better than expected 26,100 new jobs, traders were focused on the fall in full-time employment of 8,800 and the increase in part-time employment of 34,900.

The narrative was that part-time employment is not as positive as full-time employment, so the result was a more muted reaction on markets to what was unequivocally another strong number.

So strong that the data showed in March there were 11.909 million Australians working. That’s another new record.

But with part-time jobs growth over the past 12 months of 152,400 easily outpacing full-time jobs growth of 82,800 traders, markets, and probably many Australians, will still naturally think that part-time jobs are worth less than full-time jobs to the economy. Many fret about the casualisation of the workforce and worry that the quality of work is not as good as full-time.

Not so, says Westpac senior economist Justin Smirk.

Smirk told Business Insider that the shift to part-time employment “is more about structural changes and where the jobs are being created than a ‘casualisation’ of the workforce”.

“What we know is there has been a rise in both part-time and female employees which is the first hint that the industries that are growing are employing more female and part-time workers. That is those industries’ labour force have a higher share of female and part-time employees compared to those contracting,” he said.

Online employment search engine Adzuna told Business Insider that job seekers appeared to have a growing preference for part-time work. Their data shows a 21% year on year increase in searches for part-time jobs.

Raife Watson, Adzuna’s CEO, said: “We have been monitoring this shift for a while so it comes as no surprise to us. The population is ageing and employees have higher expectations of their employers for flexible working options and it’s showing in the data.”

Westpac’s Smirk added that another important factor is to look to where the jobs are being created.

Recent industry sector break up of jobs growth showed that, “outside of transport the top three of four sectors of growth would have higher female labour forces and, in retail in particular, more part-timers,” Smirk said.

ABS data shows female employment has grown 160,400 while male employment grew 74,800 in the past year. That means that the growth in female versus male employment in the past year almost mirrors part-time/full-time split over the same period.

But Westpac’s Smirk said this shift in the type of jobs and the split between female and male growth doesn’t tell the actual story of what is going on in the economy.

Remembering that the ABS has an arbitrary 35 hours of work as the delineation between part-time and full-time work, Smirk said the total hours worked under each qualification reveals the shift in the economy which is creating so many jobs and keeping people employed.

“Total monthly hours worked per full-time worker are declining but total hours worked per part-time worker are rising,” Smirk said.

That’s important because it reveals the preference that the growth in Adzuna job search data suggests. Smirk said that his read of this shift is that it appears Australians are “sharing the hours around more by working full-time less (i.e. less overtime would be a guess) and then working part-time more”.

That suggests that traders, rather than focusing on the outdated notion that part-time work is worth less than full-time work, should actually applaud Australia’s strong jobs growth and the fact that more Australians are working than ever before.

That means more pay packets, more money flowing through the economy, and more spending.

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