Unemployment and under-employment soar in Queensland during the pandemic but are relatively unchanged in NSW & Victoria

A special analysis of Roy Morgan’s latest unemployment estimates by State during the June quarter 2021 compared to the last quarter prior to the pandemic, December quarter 2019, shows significant changes in two States – Queensland and South Australia.

Queensland appears as the big ‘loser’ of the COVID-19 pandemic so far with total unemployment and under-employment in the sunshine state now at 23.5% of the workforce in the June quarter 2021, an increase of 6.6% points since the December quarter 2019 – and now clearly higher than any other State.

In contrast South Australia has handled the pandemic better than any other state on the employment front with total unemployment and under-employment in the State now at 17.4% of the workforce and below the national average – a decline of 6.5% points on December quarter 2019. South Australia has had fewer days in lockdown of any State and is the only mainland State not to experience a lockdown so far during 2021.

Despite spending more time in lockdown than the other States the lowest unemployment and under-employment is again to be found in the two largest States of New South Wales and Victoria. New South Wales had the lowest unemployment and under-employment of any State at 16.5% of the workforce in the June quarter 2021, an increase of 1.3% points while Victoria was second at 17.1% (up 0.1% points).

Western Australia has powered through the pandemic – even recording a Budget surplus during 2020 on the back of mining royalties – and its performance is confirmed by a strengthening employment market with total unemployment and under-employment of 17.3% in the June quarter 2021, down 2.4% points from late 2019.

Tasmania has been largely isolated from the mainland States for much of the pandemic and there has been little change to the island State’s employment picture with total unemployment and under-employment of 21.4% of the workforce in the June quarter 2021, down 0.4% points on late 2019.

Australian Unemployment & Under-employment by State

Roy Morgan Unemployment Estimates December Quarter 2019 cf. June Quarter 2021

Source: Roy Morgan Single Source (Australia) comparing Unemployment & Under-employment in October – December 2019 (13,526 interviews) and April – June 2021 (18,837 interviews) of Australians 14+.

Michele Levine, CEO, Roy Morgan, says:

“Australia’s handling of COVID-19 has been widely lauded as one of the world’s best in terms of keeping the virus out of the country and most Australians have lived a largely normal life during the last 18 months – although there has been one nation-wide lockdown in early 2020, a long Victorian lockdown and several shorter lockdowns around the country to deal with.

“Since the pandemic hit Australia in mid-March 2020 the economy has managed to grow by 1.1% over the year to March 2021 when most comparable countries experienced a prolonged contraction. This growth despite the challenge of COVID-19 has under-pinned a fairly strong performance on the employment front – although there have been ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ as well.

“The biggest loser of the pandemic on the employment front has been the tourism-dependent Queensland which has seen total unemployment and under-employment soar from 16.9% of the workforce in the December quarter 2019 to 23.5% in the June quarter 2021 – an increase of 6.6% points.

“The increase in Queensland is fairly evenly spread between an increase in unemployment by 3% points to 11% and an increase in under-employment by 3.7% points to 12.6% over this period. The tourism industry in Queensland has been hard hit by the continuing closure of international borders and the snap border closures whenever there has been a domestic outbreak of COVID-19 has added tremendous uncertainty to any domestic holiday bookings for people from Sydney and Melbourne.

“In contrast to the situation in Queensland it is South Australia which has performed above average over the course of the pandemic. Total unemployment and under-employment in the State has fallen from 23.9% pre-pandemic to 17.4% in the June quarter 2021 – a drop of 6.5% points.

“South Australia’s management of COVID-19 has been ‘top of the class’ with fewer outbreaks than other mainland States and not one day of lockdown for the State so far during 2021. The lesser reliance of South Australia on international tourism than other mainland States has also served the local economy well during a time when international borders have remained closed.

“A partnership between Roy Morgan and UberMedia which tracks the movement of people in locations around Australia shows the Adelaide CBD has tracked at a higher rate of movement than other Capital Cities for most of the pandemic – and every day of the last five months

“However, despite the good performance of South Australia, the two largest States of NSW and Victoria again have the lowest overall unemployment and under-employment. Before the current lockdown in Sydney there were a total of 16.5% of the workforce in NSW either unemployed or under-employed, an increase of 1.3% points from late 2019 and Victoria’s total unemployment and under-employment was 17.1%, virtually unchanged from pre-pandemic.

“The resilience of NSW and Victoria is impressive as Sydney and Melbourne have experienced longer lockdowns, and far more outbreaks of COVID-19, than any other cities. The importance of the two States to the national economy is under-lined by the fact nearly three-fifths of economic activity (57%) in Australia is generated within NSW and Victoria based on the latest ABS GDP figures.

“What these unemployment estimates do show is that the RBA was right to hold interest rates at a record low of 0.1% this week as there is still far too much unemployment and under-employment in the Australian economy to consider raising interest rates at present.

“The latest Roy Morgan June estimate shows there are now 2.65 million (17.9% of the workforce) Australians who are either unemployed or under-employed – and this figure was before the current three-week long lockdown in Sydney which may well be extended.”

This Roy Morgan survey on Australia’s unemployment and ‘under-employed’* is based on weekly interviews of 764,684 Australians aged 14 and over between January 2007 and June 2021 and includes 13,526 interviews in December quarter 2019 and 18,837 interviews in June quarter 2021. *The ‘under-employed’ are those people who are in part-time work or freelancers who are looking for more work.

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