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Unemployment at six-year low but challenges remain for jobseekers

ABS labour force data shows unemployment is down.
ABS data shows unemployment is in decline but some jobseekers are still struggling to find work. Photo: AAP
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Unemployment in Australia has hit a six-year low, but people in search of low-skilled and entry-level jobs still face significant hurdles to finding work.

The latest labour force figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show employment increased by 26,000 people in September, driven by a 21,000 person increase in full-time employment.

That brought the national jobless figure to 5.2 per cent.

“Today’s figures continue to show a gradual decrease in the trend unemployment rate that began in late 2014,” ABS chief economist Bruce Hockman said.

Callam Pickering, an economist with global job website Indeed, said the results are “largely important” for the Australian economy.

“Job growth is increasingly driven by full-time roles, which means the Australian economy is creating high-income, high-quality roles, and that’s what’s driving the broader trends in unemployment,” he said.

Mr Pickering said the size of the fall in unemployment in September was as a bit of a shock and ahead of many predictions, but noted that large falls were often followed by a rebound in the subsequent month.

“It wouldn’t be too surprising if the unemployment rate jumped a little bit when the October or November data comes out,” he said.

While the general trend continues to edge lower it will be “a little while” before the Reserve Bank pushes interest rates higher, with stronger wage growth needed first.

Data masking problems

Regardless of what the labour statistics say about overall employment, a deeper look into job availability reveals a problem among the disadvantaged according to Anglicare Australia.

“Labour force data and labour figures often ignore some of the nuances and gradations,” Anglicare executive director Kasy Chambers told The New Daily.

Anglicare’s annual Jobs Availability Snapshot, also released on Thursday, found low-skilled workers –  those looking for entry-level positions and people with mild disabilities that do not qualify for a pension – all face difficulties in gaining employment.

Ms Chambers said that, on average, for every low-skilled or entry level job, more than four were looking for that kind of employment.

These figures are based on other ABS figures and Anglicare’s own data, and uses the jobseekers classified as “disadvantaged” by the government’s Jobactive program.

Some regions of Australia are worse for these jobseekers than others: Tasmania has 11.86 disadvantaged jobseekers for every available job.

To complicate matters, the number of jobs suitable for these jobseekers had halved in the past decade, Ms Chambers said.

Anecdotally, Ms Chambers said the increasing popularity of online sales and the rise of the “gig economy” had reduced employment options for disadvantaged jobseekers.

She said government employment initiatives needed to be overhauled to fix this because the current program did provide appropriate training or work to jobseekers – pushing them instead into roles they otherwise wouldn’t consider.