The Australian Bureau of Statistics published jobs data on Thursday. The only problem is that the numbers are a load of rubbish, writes Terry McCrann.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics published jobs data on Thursday. The only problem is that the numbers are a load of rubbish, writes Terry McCrann.

Canberra’s sick joke on jobless numbers

Our official statistics body has announced its utter, lazy, bureaucratic incompetence and its humiliating irrelevance.

Just when we need the most up-to-date information on what's happening with the economy, the ABS - the Australian Bureau of Statistics - has published jobs and jobless data that is almost as ancient history as the Dead Sea Scrolls.

If anyone down at the ABS is capable of looking at the calendar, they might note that their release date yesterday was April 16.

For here was the ABS happily telling us what the state of the jobs market was over the period March 1 to 14 - all before hundreds of thousands of Australian s lost their jobs.

It's a good thing the ABS isn't responsible for reporting on the virus itself.

Employment Minister Michaelia Cash. Picture: AAP
Employment Minister Michaelia Cash. Picture: AAP

Otherwise, it would have been telling us that we had had only 295 cases and just three deaths - the state of play back on March 14 - rather than the up-to-date (a term that is clearly a mystery to the ABS) numbers of 6458/63.
 

The ABS displayed mind-numbingly impressive lack of institutional self-awareness by detailing the 'March Key Figures' of 6000 more Australians getting jobs, only 20,000 losing jobs and the jobless rate ticking up to just 5.2 per cent.

It had the gall - or more lack of self-awareness - to actually detail the utter irrelevance of the numbers it was publishing, with a time-line showing that they all pre-dated the economic lockdown policy actions related to the virus.

It kicked off that time-line explanation with: "The ABS is currently monitoring for potential impacts from the coronavirus (COVID-19) on Labour Force statistics".

Gee, you thunk, you really, deeply, thunk: that there might be some "potential" impacts on jobs and the jobless numbers from the virus?

That's to say, in particular, that you were actually thunking that on April 16 not March 1 or even 14?

I know it's hard to imagine, far less actually notice, from inside the Canberra bubble that there might have been some actual impacts on jobs and jobless numbers. That's, inside the bubble, where you don't lose your job and you don't even have to take a pay cut and life goes on, as boringly normal as it does in Canberra.

And, again just quietly, it's less the virus putting people out of work but rather more the government deliberately sending the economy into the deepest recession we've experienced in nearly 100 years.

 

Protests against the decision to leave up to 2.2 million workers out of the COVID-19 emergency Job Keeper scheme. Picture: AAP
Protests against the decision to leave up to 2.2 million workers out of the COVID-19 emergency Job Keeper scheme. Picture: AAP

 

In its own way, the ABS's nonchalant insouciance about producing figures that are worth exactly four-fifths of five-eighths of copulating-all is a perfect metaphor for the 'relaxed' approach from politicians and bureaucrats to ending the devastating economic lockdown.

Keep everything locked down for another two weeks? Or four weeks?

Or even the prime minister's original six months? Meh, what does it matter? Let's take our time, to be utterly sure, that we've wrung out every last trace of the virus.

Just to demonstrate how utterly hopeless the ABS is, overnight Thursday we will have got the fourth - all right up-to-date - weekly jobless data in the US, since countries all around the world started deep-sixing their economies.

The first three weeks showed 3.3 million Americans losing their jobs, then 6.6 million and then another 6.6 million.

But even halfway through April, the ABS can't tell us a single thing about any job losses in those four weeks that the US data has covered.

The ABS can't even tell us what had happened in the first two weeks, up to the end of March.

And it intends to just keep going lazily on. The next set of numbers will come out on May 14; they well tell us what happened to jobs in the first week of April.

They will still be as hopelessly out of date as these numbers - in mid-May the ABS will finally get around to telling us what happened last week.

But just let that sink in. The government started closing down the economy on March 21. It will take the ABS just one week shy of two months to give us the first official data on what this has done to jobs and the jobless.

The ABS has not only announced its incompetence and irrelevance; it's advised that we should turn to the Roy Morgan market research, data and polling group for our official jobs and jobless data in future.

 

Roy Morgan chief Michele Levine in Sydney.
Roy Morgan chief Michele Levine in Sydney.

That's of course if you want figures that are as close to real-time as the US weekly ones.

If you are happy to get your jobs numbers (I have to add, always dodgy numbers at the best of times, but that's another story) five or six weeks behind the pace, stick with the ABS.

Roy Morgan was able to tell us a week ago that an extra 1.4 million Australians were out of work as a result of the virus and the policy decisions.

According to Morgan, unemployment over the month of March was 1.72 million (12.2 per cent) and under-employment (people wanting to work longer hours) was 1.33 million (9.4 per cent).

But as Morgan CEO Michele Levine noted, the numbers (obviously) leapt dramatically towards the end of March.

"In total a record high 3.92 million (27.4 per cent) of Australians were either unemployed or under-employed and looking for more work in the second half of March."

As she noted: "This is far more Australians looking for work than was the case during the last recession in 1990/91."

But as she added, encouragingly, after the government's JobKeeper package announced right at the end of March, the next ANZ-Roy Morgan Consumer Confidence Rating showed a record bounce in consumer sentiment of 10.1 per cent (up 6.6pts) to 71.9, albeit coming up from a record low.

terry.mccrann@news.com.au

Originally published as Canberra's sick joke on jobless numbers


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