According to the labour force survey by Roy Morgan, ‘real’ unemployment dropped to 8.8% in December 2023. 

‘Real’ unemployment is presented as the percentage of workforce employed and unemployed. 

An individual is considered ‘unemployed’ if they are looking for work, no matter when. 

The survey revealed an estimated 1.36 million Australians were unemployed in the previous month, down 141,000 from November. 

Meanwhile, there were about 1.65 million underemployed, or those working part-time but are looking for more work. 

In total, an estimated 3.02 million, or 19.4% of the workforce, were either unemployed or underemployed in December.

The market research firm’s survey was released two days ahead of the publication of the Australian Bureau of Statistics' (ABS) December 2023 labour force survey. 

Roy Morgan’s 8.8% unemployment rate for December is more than double the ABS’ reported 3.9% for the month prior, but is comparable with the agency’s combined unemployment and underemployment figure of 10.4%.

Roy Morgan Unemployment December

It pays to note, however, that Roy Morgan’s unemployment estimates are based on data gathered through surveys of Australians aged 14 and up, while the ABS’ are seasonally adjusted. 

Many jobs, not enough people

There were 389,000 vacancies across several industries in November, according to the ABS.

Though this figure was 1% down from August data and marked the sixth straight quarterly drop, it remained well above pre-Covid level, which is 71% higher.

“The number of unemployed people per job vacancy was 1.5 in November,” ABS head of labour statistics David Taylor said.

“While this is higher than 1.1, when it was at its pandemic low, it is still well below the 3.1 figure in February 2020.”

The ongoing high level of vacancies reflected the continuing labour shortages in many industries.

Businesses in customer-facing industries, such as arts and recreation services and accommodation and food services, still find it difficult to fill jobs. 

ANZ-Indeed’s Job Ads index showed vacancies have fallen 17.5% from the November 2022 peak, but like the ABS, it found the figure still higher than pre-pandemic levels, at 36.5%. 

“Australian Job Ads edged up a seasonally adjusted 0.1% month-on-month in December, after a cumulative drop of 8.9% between August and November,” ANZ senior economist Catherine Birch said.

“In original terms, there was a 10% month-on-month fall, reflecting the seasonal drop off in recruiting going into the holiday break.”

“Vacancies per unemployed person declined to 0.65, a two-year low, but this is still double the pre-Covid level.”

Despite job ads dropping 14.9% throughout 2023, on the back of strong declines across occupational categories, more industries need to fill in jobs to reach below pre-pandemic figures.

“The biggest subtractions came from food preparation and service, software development, and personal care, which more than offset the sizable gains in therapy and education job ads,” Indeed senior economist Callam Pickering said.  

Ms Birch expects a modest lift in the unemployment rate this year. 

Record-high employment rate

More Aussies are joining the workforce, with Roy Morgan revealing the employment rate had hit a record high of 15.5 million in December - 587,000 higher than a year ago.

The record-high increases were attributed to the large population growth over the last year, which went up by 831,000. 

“This level of increase is almost three times larger than the long-term average over the last 25 years, during which the Australian population increased on an annual basis by an average of 280,000,” noted Roy Morgan CEO Michele Levine. 

“However, the swelling workforce is increasingly unable to provide the right type of jobs for all those who need them with over three million Australians looking for work or looking for more work.”

“Tackling this continuing high level of unemployment and under-employment must be the number one priority for the Federal Government over the next year heading into the next election due in early 2025.”

Photo by Blake Wisz on Unsplash