The truth about unemployment in Australia must be told

By Joe Montero

Just about everyone is talking about the dark economic clouds on the horizon. The numbers and politics don’t look good. The only certainty is that both the global and Australian economies are becoming increasingly unstable.

At home, investment growth is an illusion and wages not only continue to be stagnant but fall further behind in real terms. Businesses shut their doors in greater numbers. Just walk along any urban shopping strip, to see the result.

The individual debt crisis continues to get worse. Many are on the margin between continuing as at present or falling over the edge. The housing bubble shows signs of falling apart. Prices are going down and could conceivably crash before too long.

The economy is not growing, and Australia could be approaching a precipice.

Everybody knows all this is true, whether they want to admit it or not. It’s part of the national conversation. Experts and columnists are writing about these matters in greater frequency.

One important part is not being talked about nearly as much as it should be.

This is unemployment and underemployment. This is not only important to those unable to find work. It is a fundamental indicator of the health of the economy and what we, as a society, are doing about it.

The extent of the problem has been systematically underestimated for a long time. We are told that 6.6 percent of Australians are out of work. Economists are predicting that this will soon go higher. The jobless rate has been steadily climbing over the last few months and there is no end in sight.

Even the current 6.6 percent admitted makes it worse than the average for developed countries, where it at 5.2 percent. and it only counts those on the Newstart allowance, excluding those who have worked for at least one hour during the week of the survey.

It the number of people estimated to be looking for work but not registered at Centrelink is added to those who are, the proportion of Australians out of work roses to 9.8 percent of the population.

At this level, Australia is facing an employment crisis. Some three million people out of work surely requires a national effort to create jobs. This is not happening. Our political leaders prefer to keep silent.

Still more crucial is underemployment, which has been the only growth area in the labour market. The problem with it is that it displaces permanent and full-time jobs.

Underemployment is a serious problem in Australia

Given that up to 40 percent of the workforce non-permanent and part-time work, the true picture of unemployment is incomplete without the factoring this in.

According to ABS figures for July 1019, underemployment sat at 13.6 percent of the workforce. Add this and the real unemployment rate in Australia rises to 23.4 percent. This is the government’s own figures and almost a quarter of Australia out of work.

No wonder this is being buried. Ensuring that so many have decent jobs is a big ask that demands concerning how we deal with each other and share the wealth.

Rather than admit there is a problem and have a will to change it, the response of the political establishment has been to sweep the matter under the carpet, attack and marginalise those out of work, or who do not have enough work.

Failure to respond adequately to this crisis, is a major reason why more people are questioning a political system and economy, which they see to be delivering for a privileged few and denying the majority.

Continued failure to respond adequately, in the context of looming economic storm clouds, risks transforming questioning into anger, and this will have major political consequences.

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