The unemployment rate has remained steady at 3.5 per cent, with the creation of an estimated 53,000 jobs in March increasing the chances of an interest rate rise next month.
- Female workforce participation and employment are both at record highs
- Hours worked edged down and underemployment climbed higher
- LinkedIn data shows hiring has slowed compared to peak levels seen last year
The unemployment rate remained near five-decade lows, and the detail behind that headline number stayed generally strong.
The employment-to-population ratio increased 0.1 percentage point to 64.4 per cent, while the proportion of people either in work or looking for it remained at 66.7 per cent.
“Both indicators were close to their historical highs in November 2022, reflecting a tight labour market and explaining why employers are finding it hard to fill the high number of job vacancies,” said ABS head of labour statistics Lauren Ford.
Although hours worked dipped slightly and the underemployment rate edged higher to 6.2 per cent, reversing a decrease in February.
Good times for jobseekers
Data from LinkedIn, provided to the ABC, confirmed the labour market was still friendly for jobseekers.
“We have a tight jobs market at the moment, which means that the ratio between available jobs and applicants is about three applicants for every role,” said LinkedIn career’s expert Cayla Dengate.
“It is still a jobseeker’s market if you’re applying for a job in mining, in government services, in retail especially.”
LinkedIn’s data show the biggest increase in ads for jobs in oil, gas and mining (+75 per cent); government administration (+42 per cent); hospitals and healthcare (+36 per cent); education (+35 per cent); and retail (+34 per cent).
But the labour market is loosening up compared to last year, with about twice as many applicants per job opening as there were a year ago.
Ms Dengate said fewer jobs were being advertised on LinkedIn, and jobseekers had to put in more applications to find a role.
“Hiring is slowing down globally and here in Australia; the hiring rate is down 35 per cent compared with the same time last year,” she told The Business.
“Jobseekers are putting in 22 per cent more applications this year compared with the same time last year … it means that they might be applying for more jobs before they get that one that’s right for them.”
That is the experience of Naima Ibrahim, a single mum looking for more flexibility with her work to balance her caring responsibilities.
“I want to make sure that I got the right job, not just jumping in because I need that income; I want to find a place that I can belong,” she said.
“I’m looking for a hybrid job. I don’t mind being in the office, but because I have a small child with special needs, whenever he’s sick, whenever he needs more support, so whenever I can possibly work at home while looking after the little one.”
Ms Ibrahim is being assisted by Dress for Success, a charity that offers clothing, styling, resume and interview support to help women land a job.
The charity’s Sydney chair, Amanda Webb, said it was seeing more women coming through the door seeking help as rising interest rates and the surging cost of living drive people back into the workforce.
“Across all of our affiliates across Australia, we’re all experiencing an increasing number of women returning to work,” she observed.
“Now they need two incomes back into their household, more hours of income and work.
“So that is also putting some extra strain on people and their lives and therefore an increase in a spike in our need for our service as well.”
Ms Webb’s anecdote is backed by the official data, which not only shows a record number of women looking for work, but also finding it.
“With consecutive months of strong growth in female employment (up 81,000 during the past two months), the female participation rate increased to a record high of 62.5 per cent, and their employment-to-population ratio also hit a historical high of 60.4 per cent,” observed Ms Ford from the ABS.
Interest rate rise odds increase
Job website Indeed’s Asia-Pacific economist Callam Pickering said the data should give policymakers such as the Reserve Bank comfort that the economy was handling interest rate rises so far.
“A sharp rise in the unemployment rate remains unlikely in the near term. The main reason is that forward-looking measures of labour demand remain healthy, with job vacancies and job advertisements still well above pre-pandemic levels,” he noted.
“While that is comforting, it should also be noted that economies can and do change suddenly.
“That demand for workers is very high today doesn’t necessarily imply that this will be true in six months’ time.
“But generally speaking, you’d expect job vacancies to begin to falter and then employment to follow. There is no sign of that just yet.”
Sean Langcake from BIS Oxford Economics said today’s data reaffirmed his expectation that the Reserve Bank would resume raising interest rates in May.
“The RBA expects to see the labour market soften over 2023, with higher interest rates tempering demand, contributing to a higher unemployment rate and cooling wage and inflation pressures,” he argued.
“There are very few signs of weakness in these data and little to suggest the labour market is slackening in a meaningful way.”
Financial markets had broadly ruled out much chance of the Reserve Bank raising interest rates again, but have now priced in an outside 18 per cent chance of a hike next month.
Three of the four major banks are tipping one more interest rate rise, with most favouring May, while NAB recently changed its forecast and now expects the cash rate has peaked at 3.6 per cent.