Unemployment spirals in WA


By Jonathan Singer

PERTH — After more than a year of deepening recession in WA, the official unemployment rate has climbed from a low point of 5.5 per cent to 9.3 last month. But there is no end in sight to the spiral of rising unemployment.

Building was an important and relatively buoyant area of the state economy in the 1980s. But at the start of 1990 the building sector collapsed, and there is little prospect of this turning around soon. Many important city construction sites are nearing completion, and few new projects are in the pipeline.

The rural sector has been hard hit by falling commodity prices for wool and wheat. Wheat is now selling at $115 a tonne, equal to the average total cost of production, so many farmers are reducing their plantings. At the same time, farm labourers and shearers are unable to find work.

The recession is flowing on into the manufacturing and retailing sectors. This was already evident in the middle of 1990, when many workers from the brick factories and other building-related industries lost their jobs. Even the mining sector, formerly the employment el dorado of WA, holds out few job prospects.

Behind the dry statistics is another story. The numbers claiming unemployment benefits have jumped dramatically. In six months, there was a 57% increase in those claiming unemployment benefits in the Gosnells DSS region, a working-class area in Perth's south-east.

Overall increases since November 1989 are up to more than 150 per cent. Social Security staff are pressed to the limit, often doing work for which they have only minimal training and little experience.

The hopes of young people have been shattered. Already their situation is as bad at that in the early 1980s. One-quarter of 15-19 year olds are unemployed, and graduate unemployment is also rapidly increasing. Hundreds of young people, faced with no prospect of getting work, have tried to return to studies only to find there is a shortage of places there too.

Francis Cassidy, a Campaign Against Poverty and Unemployment activist, told Green Left that "the increase in youth unemployment means an increase in youth homelessness and an increase in pressure on social services and welfare organisations and their staff. There is a tremendous cost to the community."