We’ve broken the participation record but we’re not all winners | Greg Jericho

In March, a record percentage of Australians were in the labour force. The participation rate of 65.7% broke the record set in December 2010. But comparing the make-up of the workforce then and now reveals a rather different workforce today – one with winners and losers.

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In the latest labour force figures, the ABS estimated the trend participation rate to be 65.655%, which was rounded up to 65.7%, beating the December 2010 figure of 65.6%, and meaning that more of the adult population is now either working or looking for work than ever before:

Participation rate

63.0%63.5%64.0%64.5%65.0%65.5%66.0%20042006200820102012201420162018

Persons

Chart: Greg Jericho Source: ABS 6202.0, Table 1 Get the data Created with Datawrapper

A few years ago most would not have thought the record would be broken. The aging population meant that the percentage of the population under 65 was shrinking and thus making it hard for the participation rate to get back to the level it was before the baby boomers began retiring.

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The reason a new record has been set is due mostly to two sets of workers – those same baby boomers, who were expected to head off to retirement; and prime-working aged women, whose influx into the workforce has more than offset the decline in male employment.

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The participation rate of people aged 25-64 has actually been breaking records for some time now. Every month since February last year a new record has been set:

Participation rate – 25-64 year olds

50%55%60%65%70%75%80%85%90%19801985199019952000200520102015

Women

Persons

Men

Women

Persons

Men

Chart: Greg Jericho Source: ABS 6202.0, Tables 13 & 18, derived Get the data Created with Datawrapper

Just a smidge under three quarters of women in that age bracket are now in the workforce. Such a figure was barely believable 20 years ago. In 1998 only 63% of women aged 25-64 were either working or looking for work. The difference is the equivalent of an extra 750,000 women in the labour force.

So the workforce now compared with when the participation rate record was last set at the end of 2010 is more female and older.

The percentage of those aged under 25 in work has fallen, and so too has the percentage of men in their prime-earning years – while there has been a surge of women gaining employment:

Change in employment rates: Dec 2010 to March 2018

TotalFull-timePart-time

Created with Raphaël 2.1.2

3.1% pts

65+ women

-5.0

-4.1% pts

15-19 men

-0.7% pts

15-19 women

-2.2% pts

20-24 men

-0.2% pts

20-24 women

-0.8% pts

25-64 men

3.2% pts

25-64 women

1.9% pts

65+ men

3.1% pts

65+ women

Chart: Greg Jericho Source: ABS 6202.0, Tables 1, 13, 17 & 18 derived Get the data Created with Datawrapper

The figures also demonstrate how much the type of work has shifted – with a greater percentage of people across all ages and genders working part-time now than was the case in December 2010.

And as a result, while we have set a record for participation we remain a long way below the record for the average number of hours worked on a per capita basis.

That record of an average of 90.4 hours worked in a month by all persons over the age of 15 was set in June 2008 – both prior to the GFC and the baby boomers hitting retirement age. At the end of 2010 there was another peak – at 88.6 hours it was well below the record, but even that figure is well above the current level of 86.1 hours:

Average per capita hours worked per month

85.0 hours86.0 hours87.0 hours88.0 hours89.0 hours90.0 hours20042006200820102012201420162018

Avge Hours Worked per Month per Person

Chart: Greg Jericho Source: ABS 6202.0, Table 1 & 19, derived Get the data Created with Datawrapper

The decline in the per capita hours worked is also a sign that higher wages growth is probably not about to come rushing down the pipeline. There was a very strong growth in hours worked last year, but that looks to have dropped off over the past six months.

If we look at how the rates of employment per age group have changed since the start of the century we can also see just how much more the GFC affected people under 25 compared with everyone else:

Change in employment to population ratio since Jan 2000

15-19yo20-24yo25-64yo65+yo

Created with Raphaël 2.1.2

-5.0

5.0% pts

2000

2001

2002

2003

2004

2005

2006

2007

2008

2009

2010

2011

2012

2013

2014

2015

2016

2017

2018

Chart: Greg Jericho Source: ABS 6202.0, Tables 1, 13, 17 & 18, derived Get the data Created with Datawrapper

There is a greater percentage of people aged over 25 working now than at the height of the mining boom. By contrast, there are fewer young people working, not only compared with the mining boom but even compared with January 2000.

With the increase in part-time work and the overall fall in hours worked on average it is not surprising that the underemployment rate is higher now than it was in December 2010 – up from 7.1% to 8.3%.

On this score every gender and age group is worse off – but clearly the underemployment of younger workers has increased by much more than others:

Underemployment rate by age

Nov-2010Feb-2018Change

Created with Raphaël 2.1.2

6.1%

55+ women

5.0

10.0

15.0%

11.6%

15-24 men

14.9%

15-24 women

4.4%

25-34 men

6.9%

25-34 women

3.5%

35-44 men

8.6%

35-44 women

4.3%

45-54 men

8.7%

45-54 women

5.2%

55+ men

6.1%

55+ women

Chart: Greg Jericho Source: ABS 6202.0, Table 22 Get the data Created with Datawrapper

At this point one could suggest something is amiss – too many migrant workers, something wrong with the IR system that is stopping employers from hiring younger workers.

But the unfortunate reality is that youth workers are always more likely to be underemployed than older workers. Workers under 25 are much more likely to lose out in full-time work to older workers, and as a result, when there is less full-time work available, that means youth workers are going to be affected more.

It also means that when the underemployment of older workers increases, it will generally increase by more for youth workers.

If we compare the underemployment rates of workers under 25 with those aged 25 to 44, we find that the current levels of underemployment are high for both and essentially at the level you would expect given the overall rate of underemployment:

Underemployment rate 2003-2018 – youth & prime-age workers

Orange = past 2 years

4.55.05.56.06.57.010.011.012.013.014.015.016.017.018.019.0Feb 2018Nov 2010

15-24 years

25-44 years

Chart: Greg Jericho Source: ABS 6202.0, Table 22, derived Get the data Created with Datawrapper

The big change for youth since December 2010 has been the switch from those who were working but not studying, to those who are either both studying and working (and thus more likely to be working part-time) or just studying:

Breakdown of 15-24yo population

Dec-2010Mar-2018Change

Created with Raphaël 2.1.2

7.1%

Not earning and not learning

10.0

20.0

30.0%

20.8%

Earning & learning

3.4%

Unemployed & learning

24.4%

Learning but not earning

39.7%

Earning but not learning

4.5%

Unemployed but not learning

7.1%

Not earning and not learning

Chart: Greg Jericho Source: ABS 6202.0, Table 15, derived Get the data Created with Datawrapper

The problem for younger workers is that since 2010 the four industries that have accounted for nearly three quarters of the growth in all employment have been healthcare, education, professional, scientific and technology, and construction – rather than the traditional youth-employing industries of retail trade, and accommodation and food:

Breakdown of workers by industry

A positive difference means older workers are more likely than youth to work in that industry

15-24year olds25+ workersDifference

Created with Raphaël 2.1.2

10.0

20.0%

Retail Trade

Accom & food

Construction

Health Care

Manufacturing

Prof, Sci & tech

Education

Other Services

Arts & Rec

Transport etc

Admin & support

Wholesale Trade

Agriculture

Public Admin

Real Estate etc

Finance

Info Media & telco

Mining

Electricity, Gas etc

Chart: Greg Jericho Source: ABS 6291.0.55.003, EQ12 Get the data Created with Datawrapper

The youth of Australia have reacted to this changing labour market by staying in school or going on to tertiary education. Despite what some conservative commentators and politicans would have you believe, they have most definitely not sat around doing nothing.

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The rate of under 25s neither in the labour force nor in education is now almost as low as it was at the height of the mining boom:

Percentage of youth not in employment, education or training

15-24yo, rolling 12 months average

4.0%5.0%6.0%7.0%8.0%9.0%10.0%19952000200520102015

Not in the labour force

Unemployed

Not in the labour force

Unemployed

Chart: Greg Jericho Source: ABS 6202.0, Table 15, derived Get the data Created with Datawrapper

The new record level of participation in the labour force is a good time to take stock of how things have changed. Overall, the change has been towards part-time work and with an older labour force.

For younger Australians it has meant a major shift in their experience in the labour force. Not only are they starting later, they are much more likely to be starting in part-time work. The one positive, however, is that now almost more than ever before they are either working or learning. The issue will be if the shift from earning to learning continues, and if it also leads to better work once they do enter the labour force.