South Australia: dragged down by demographics | Greg Jericho

This weekend South Australians go to the polls, and after 16 years in office the ALP is facing a pretty tough task to retain government – although, with the introduction of Nick Xenophon’s SA Best party into the mix, no one is all that sure of what will happen. But whoever wins government will preside over an economy that has struggled behind the rest of the nation since the early 1990s.

As one who grew up in country South Australia and who, despite not having lived in the state for nearly a quarter of a century, still supports the Crows, Adelaide United, and the Adelaide Strikers, and gets very parochial about successful people from the state, looking at its economy is always sad.

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In January this year South Australia had fewer of its adult population employed than any other state except Tasmania. But that is not new. It was the case at the date of every election, bar one, that the state ALP has won since 2002:

Employment to population ratio

Feb-2002

Mar-2006

Mar-2010

Mar-2014

Jan-2018

Created with Raphaël 2.1.2

52.8%

Tas

20.0

40.0

60.0%

61.7%

WA

59.7%

Qld

59.2%

Vic

59.1%

Australia

58.3%

NSW

56.3%

SA

52.8%

Tas

Chart: Greg Jericho Source: ABS 6202.0, Table 12 Get the data Created with Datawrapper

And across the state, only one area – the well-heeled city central and hills areas – have a higher level of employment than does the rest of the nation:

South Australia – employment to population ratio

PersonsMenWomen

Created with Raphaël 2.1.2

53.8%

Australia

20.0

40.0

60.0%

63.6%

Adelaide – Central & Hills

61.6%

Australia

59.3%

Adelaide – Sth

59.1%

Greater Adelaide

58.4%

South Australia

57.3%

Adelaide – West

56.8%

South Australia – Sth East

56.8%

Adelaide – Nth

53.8%

Barossa – Yorke – Mid Nth

Chart: Greg Jericho Source: ABS 6291.0.55.001, Table 16b Get the data Created with Datawrapper

And again, this is nothing new, because the state’s demography and economy is actually rather out of step with the rest of the nation.

The big difference is that South Australians are much older than the rest of the country – it has fewer people aged under 50 but more people aged over 50:

Breakdown of population by age

South Australia

Rest of Aust

Created with Raphaël 2.1.2

0.58%

90+

5%

10%

0-9

10-19

20-29

30-39

40-49

50-59

60-69

70-79

80-89

90+

Chart: Greg Jericho Source: ABS 3101.0, derived Get the data Created with Datawrapper

Those demographics make for a tough time economically, and it is not helped by the actual make-up of industries within the state.

South Australia has long been viewed as a rust belt type state (to borrow the American term applied to places such as Michigan), but it is actually now only slightly more dependent upon manufacturing than is the rest of Australia.

The biggest difference in the state’s economy is a much greater dependency upon agriculture, and – due very much to the ageing population – healthcare:

Breakdown of industry gross value added (2016-17)

South AustraliaRest of AustDifference

Created with Raphaël 2.1.2

0.7%

2.0

4.0

6.0

8.0%

Health care etc

Finance

Manufacturing

Agriculture

Construction

Education

Public admin

Retail trade

Wholesale trade

Prof, sci & tech

Transport etc

Mining

Electricity etc

Admin & support

Accomm & food

Real estate etc

Info media & telco

Other services

Arts & rec

Chart: Greg Jericho Source: ABS 5220.0 Get the data Created with Datawrapper

But the static picture hides the massive disruption that has occurred in the state over the past 20 years. While manufacturing has declined across the nation, in South Australia the decline has been much larger.

20 years ago manufacturing accounted of 15% of all of the state’s value added, compared with 10.5% in the rest of Australia. Now the gap is much smaller – 7.1% to 6.2%:

Share of manufacturing to total industries value added

0%1%2%3%4%5%6%7%8%9%10%11%12%13%14%15%16%0%1989-901993-941997-982001-022005-062009-102013-14

South Aust

Rest of Aust

South Aust

Rest of Aust

Chart: Greg Jericho Source: ABS 5220.0, derived Get the data Created with Datawrapper

Losing the auto industry slightly altered Australia’s economy, but it massively affected South Australia’s.

However, despite the decline, more South Australians are employed in manufacturing than is the case elsewhere, and much more are employed in agriculture and healthcare:

Breakdown of employment

South AustraliaRest of AustDifference

Created with Raphaël 2.1.2

5.0

10.0

15.0%

Health care etc

Retail trade

Manufacturing

Construction

Education

Public admin

Accomm & food

Prof, sci & tech

Transport etc

Agriculture

Admin & support

Other services

Wholesale trade

Finance

Arts & rec

Real estate etc

Info media & telco

Electricity etc

Mining

Chart: Greg Jericho Source: ABS 6291.0.55.003, Table 5 derived Get the data Created with Datawrapper

But an economy where agriculture and healthcare are the growing industries, and where manufacturing remains important but shrinking, leads to the type of situation South Australia has observed in the past four years since the last election – much stronger growth in part-time employment:

Employment growth – South Australia

Since March 2014Past year

Created with Raphaël 2.1.2

6.0%

PT – women

5.0

10.0%

3.9%

Total – persons

2.5%

Total – men

5.5%

Total – women

2.0%

FT- persons

0.5%

FT – men

5.1%

FT – women

7.7%

PT- persons

11.9%

PT – men

6.0%

PT – women

Chart: Greg Jericho Source: ABS 6202.0, Table 7, derived Get the data Created with Datawrapper

And while that has reversed in the past year – giving the Weatherill government something to cling to – that mix of agriculture, healthcare, growing part-time work, and shrinking full-time manufacturing work also adds up to the state having one of the lowest average weekly earnings and the worst growth of earnings over the part four years:

Average weekly earnings

Average weekly earningsGrowth – 2017Growth since May 2013

Created with Raphaël 2.1.2

$1,025.50

Tasmania

500.00

$1,000.00

$1,333.10

Western Australia

$1,223.20

New South Wales

$1,191.70

Australia

$1,152.70

Victoria

$1,140.70

Queensland

$1,077.50

South Australia

$1,025.50

Tasmania

Chart: Greg Jericho Source: ABS 6302.0, derived Get the data Created with Datawrapper

Because of the shift from full-time to part-time and from higher-paying manufacturing work to lower-paid agriculture and healthcare work, the average earnings of all employees has not grown at all since May 2014.

The big problem is that employment growth has been weak over the past four years. Only Western Australia, coming off the mining boom, has had worse growth since the last state election:

Employment growth since March 2014

Employment growthFT Emp growthEmp to Pop growthFT Emp to Pop growth

Created with Raphaël 2.1.2

2.3%

Tas

5.0

10.0%

12.7%

Vic

9.1%

NSW

6.1%

Qld

4.6%

Tas

3.9%

SA

2.3%

WA

Chart: Greg Jericho Source: ABS 6202.0, Table 12, derived Get the data Created with Datawrapper

And while growth in the rate of people employed full-time in South Australia is not too bad compared with most of the other states, it is still nothing much to write home about. That brings us to the other big problem for the state – there are a lot of people who no longer call South Australia home.

While the level of departures from the state is nothing like that which occurred during the 1990s recession (which included myself), in 2016 it peaked at a 12-year high, while at the same time the level of arrivals to the state is historically low:

South Australia – annual interstate migration

160001800020000220002400026000280003000032000340001985199019952000200520102015

Arrivals

Departures

Arrivals

Departures

Chart: Greg Jericho Source: ABS 3101.0, Tables 16A & 16B, derived Get the data Created with Datawrapper

It all adds up to South Australian’s real household disposable income being flat for nearly nine years:

Real household disposable income per capita

Using 2016-17 dollars, declined using CPI

$32,000$34,000$36,000$38,000$40,000$42,000$44,000$46,000$48,0001996-971999-002002-032005-062008-092011-122014-15

South Australia

Australia

South Australia

Australia

Chart: Greg Jericho Source: ABS 5220.0, Tables 15 & 20, derived Get the data Created with Datawrapper

Given this picture, it is something of pride that the residents have not embraced a racist-extremist party but have instead floated towards the centrist SA Best party. But much like One Nation in Queensland having a good deal of parochialism attached to it, so too does Xenophon with many South Australians. Yes, he may have done whacky stunts in the past but he was their whacky stunt guy.

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And in a state that feels very much ignored, having someone to call “our guy” is important.

But there is a difference between having a guy in Canberra and wanting him to lead the state – and it remains historically astonishingly hard to break the two-party system. Given the ongoing state of the economy, that the Liberal party is not a shoo-in on Saturday says all you need to know about people’s view of the SA Liberal party. So it might just be the case that the ALP gets back in.

But whoever does win will face a tough task ahead. Demography and a changing economy are against them, and it will be difficult to change the latter without changing the first.