New data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics reveal that the hurdle of getting into work is a high one for many and that, overwhelmingly, full-time work is going to those already working rather than to new entrants into the labour force or the unemployed.
One of the problems with the monthly labour force figures is they don’t really show just how much change occurs. When you hear stories of a company employing 100 new staff or, conversely, retrenching a similar number what is often not understood is just how many people each month get and lose jobs.
Over the past 12 months, on average, 82,640 people went from being employed in one month to being unemployed in the following month – either due to retrenchment or by choice. And at the same time, about 117,500 people went from being unemployed one month to being employed the next month:
While this is going on there are also nearly half a million people either moving from being employed to leaving the labour force (due to retirement, raising children, going back to education, health or any other reason) or shifting from not being in the labour force to being employed (due to leaving school, going back to work after raising children, etc).
But while these are large numbers that give some context whenever any politicians boast or criticises a policy that will deliver (or lose) X number of jobs, as a rule what your labour force status is this month greatly determines what you’ll be doing next month.
About 93% of people employed full-time one month will be so employed in the following month; similarly, 82% of those employed part-time this month will be in the same employment next month – with 11% moving into full-time employment:
And while more people go into employment from outside the labour force than they do from being unemployed, just over a quarter of unemployed were not in the labour force a month ago.
But where the overall percentage movement each month from employment to unemployment and vice-versa is rather small, we can see big changes when we look at more long-term periods.
This week the ABS, as part of its Australian Census Longitudinal Dataset, has released data that tracks the movement of people aged 15-59 in 2011 in and out of the labour force from 2011 to 2016.
As expected, most of those employed (89%) in 2011 were still employed five years later. But such workers were more likely to be employed full-time than those newly arrived into the labour force.
Currently, around 51% of all people aged 15-64 are employed full-time, whereas 61% of people who were employed in 2011 were working full-time in 2016:
This suggests that the growth of part-time employment has mostly been for new entrants. This is also reflected in the changes in status of those people who were unemployed in 2011.
Of those who were looking for work in 2011, only 32% were working full-time in 2016.
As with overall employment, women who were unemployed in 2011 were more likely to be working part-time in 2016 than were men in the same situation. And while women were less likely to be still unemployed, they were more likely to have left the labour force:
For those who were not in the labour force in 2011 the situation is even more stark. Only 17% were working full-time in 2016, and 21% were working part-time. Just over half of those not in the labour force in 2011 were still in such a status five years later, and 7.4% were unemployed:
But when we look at the level of full-time employment among only those who were employed in 2016, the difference becomes even more clear.
In 2016, around 66% of all those with a job were employed full-time, but a mere 55% of those who were unemployed in 2011 and had work in 2016 were employed full-time. Even worse is that only 43% of those who were outside the labour force in 2011 but were employed in 2016 were in full-time work.
Also evident from the data is the difficulty of getting into work when unemployed. The unemployment rate in 2016 of those who had work in 2011 was just 3.6%, compared with the overall rate of 5.9%. Whereas the unemployment rate in 2016 of those who were unemployed in 2011 was a whopping 22.3%:
One other difference that is quite clear from the data is the employment status of those by the type of school they attended.
Of those who attended public school in 2011, 69% were employed five years later, compared with 77% of those who attended a Catholic school and 72% of those who went to a non-Catholic private school.
Those who attended non-public schools were also much more likely to be employed and still studying:
Those who attended public school in 2011 were also more likely to be either not in the labour force or unemployed than those who attended private school.
While a similar percentage of public school and non-Catholic private school attendees from 2011 were out of the labour force in 2016, many more of those from private schools were still studying compared with those from the public school, who were more likely to be neither studying nor in the labour force.
The long-term data give us some good insight into the labour force that we don’t get from the monthly snapshot. Rather than just look at employment by gender, age and state, the long-term data show the importance of your current work status on the likelihood of being employed in the future.
Entrants into the workforce have a much tougher time getting a full-time job than do those who are already employed, suggesting that a high proportion of part-time work is going to younger people and those returning to work, and that any growth in full-time work is overwhelmingly going to those already employed.
Greg Jericho is a Guardian Australia columnist