Real unemployment rate more than double

March 25, 1998

By Allen Myers

The real unemployment rate in Australia is probably more than double the official rate of 8.1%, according to figures from an Australian Bureau of Statistics study announced on March 9.

The survey "Persons Not in the Labour Force", conducted last September, found that 1,189,100 people wanted to work but were either not actively looking for work (96%) or not readily available to start work (4%). This means that they are considered as "not in the labour force" and are excluded from the official unemployment figures.

The ABS study subdivided the 1 million plus discouraged job seekers into those with and without a "marginal attachment" to the labour force. Some 890,500 people who were either actively looking or available to start work within four weeks (but not both) were classified as "marginally attached" to the work force. Another 298,700 people who wanted to work were classified as not marginally attached because they were neither actively looking nor available to start work within four weeks.

The ABS's seasonally adjusted estimates for February were that there were 8,529,400 people employed and 751,000 unemployed, giving an unemployment rate of 8.1%. If the 1,189,100 would-be workers found in the September survey are added in, the result is an unemployment rate of 18.5%.

The phrase "discouraged job seekers" to describe workers who are excluded from the official labour force oversimplifies the reasons for their situation, the survey indicates. For example, 296,500 people — 97% of them women — wanted to work but were not in the official labour force for child-care reasons.

Some 20% of "discouraged job seekers" gave physical disability or ill health as their reason for not being in the labour force.

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