ACT unemployment lowest in a decade but COVID-19 yet to hit

Dominic Giannini 19 April 2020
Andrew Barr

Chief Minister Andrew Barr says he is expecting the Territory’s unemployment rate to double to 6 per cent in the coming months. Photo: Region Media.

March’s unemployment and underemployment rates have remained steady in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has said a more accurate representation of the economic impact will not be available until April’s figures are released.

The ACT’s trend unemployment rate has stayed at 3 per cent, its lowest since January 2009, while Australia’s unemployment rate has gone up slightly from 5.1 to 5.2 per cent (seasonally adjusted).

However, the reference period covers 1 March to 14 March, a full week before social distancing rules and additional shutdown measures and restrictions were brought in on 21 March, and the shutdown of non-essential services on 22 March, the ABS said.

April’s figures will cover 29 March to 11 April and will be released in the middle of May.

In the ACT, full-time employment increased by 1,200 jobs and part-time employment went up by 3,000 jobs.

A total of 1,000 people lost their jobs and the trend data shows an uptick in the total number of unemployed people, which now sits at 7,500.

Unemployed people looking for full-time work in the ACT has also gone up while the total number of people looking for part-time work has fallen.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr said he expects the Territory’s unemployment rate to double to 6 per cent in the coming months, in line with Federal predictions that Australia’s unemployment rate could reach 10 per cent.

The Commonwealth Treasury said unemployment could have risen to as high as 15 per cent had the $130 billion JobKeeper package not been announced.

To date, around 1 per cent of people who have applied for the JobSeeker payment are from the ACT. Mr Barr said this indicates that around 6,000 extra Canberrans are out of work, although Canberra is in a better position than most cities.

Canberra’s large public service sector will largely help it weather the worst of the incoming storm as big government policy means bigger governments, according to a recent report from Deloitte Access Economics.

“It is never good when the unemployment rate rises but Canberra is doing a lot better than other states and territories,” Mr Barr said.

The ACT Government confirmed it would not reduce the pay of its 20,000 strong public sector workforce and would extend the contracts and hours of casuals and contractors to help keep people employed during the pandemic.

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