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Unemployment hits pre-GFC levels, even as Omicron pummels business

·3-min read
People standing on an escalator wearing masks with a breaking news banner.
64,000 jobs were added in December, according to the ABS. (Source: Getty)

The unemployment rate fell to 4.2 per cent in December as more than 64,000 people returned to the workforce, the latest figures reveal.

New data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) on Thursday marked a 0.5 per cent improvement in the unemployment rate, taking Australia to its lowest jobless rate since 2008.

However, the 65,000 extra employed in December pales in comparison to the 366,000 increase in November 2021.

“This provides an indication of the state of the labour market in the first two weeks of December, before the large increase in COVID cases later in the month,” head of labour statistics at the ABS Bjorn Jarvis said.

“Recovery in New South Wales and Victoria continued to have a large influence on the national figures, with employment in these two states increasing by 32,000 and 25,000 people between November and December.

“Their employment was around where it had been in May having fallen 250,000 and 145,000 during the lockdowns.”

Jarvis noted that the new unemployment rate is as low as it’s been since before the Global Financial Crisis, when it hit 4.0 per cent in August 2008.

The youth unemployment rate also fell by 1.5 percentage points to 9.4 per cent, marking its lowest rate since November 2008.

Underemployment slid 0.8 percentage points, taking the proportion of workers who want more hours to 6.6 per cent.

“The continued recovery in employment was also seen in strong increases in hours worked, as people continued to return to work in December,” Jarvis said.

It comes as the International Labour Organisation (ILO) warns new COVID variants including Omicron have worsened global unemployment levels.

In its latest assessment, the ILO said the outlook for jobs has worsened as COVID continues to weigh on growth, with an estimated 52 million fewer jobs in 2022 compared to the last quarter of 2019.

It also cautioned against relying on only raw unemployment figures, noting that many datasets failed to capture the number of people who had left the workforce entirely.

“Two years into this crisis, the outlook remains fragile and the path to recovery is slow and uncertain,” ILO director-general Guy Ryder said.

“We are already seeing potentially lasting damage to labour markets, along with concerning increases in poverty and inequality. Many workers are being required to shift to new types of work – for example, in response to the prolonged slump in international travel and tourism.

“There can be no real recovery from this pandemic without a broad-based labour market recovery. And to be sustainable, this recovery must be based on the principles of decent work – including health and safety, equity, social protection and social dialogue.”

The warning comes as COVID-induced worker shortages continue to pose problems to Australian supply chains.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison is reportedly considering a plan allowing children to drive forklifts in the hopes it will ease some of the strain.

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