Double-digit regional unemployment rates: CommSec's Ryan Felsman

Staff reporterAugust 19, 20200 min read


While Victoria and NSW have been hardest hit by the health crisis, Queensland’s job market has fared worst.

The Sunshine State’s unemployment rate was the highest in Australia at 8.8 per cent in July – a 19-year high. And 144,500 jobs were lost between February and July as international and state border closures impacted tourism. 

Of the 20 regions with the highest unemployment rates in the land, Queensland had the highest representation with nine in July. Leading the way was Wide Bay, where the jobless rate rose by 8.2 percentage points - the second most in the nation - to 17 per cent. Next was the Queensland Outback (10.9 per cent), followed by Brisbane’s Moreton Bay South (10.5 per cent), Ipswich (10.1 per cent) and the Sunshine Coast (9.8 per cent). 

But Western Australia also featured prominently. Apart from Mandurah’s nation-topping 18 per cent jobless rate, Perth’s North-West lost the most jobs (-30,200) between February and July. And Western Australia’s unemployment rate of 8.3 per cent is the second highest in Australia - now at 20-year highs. 

Since the economy re-opened from the first virus lockdown in May, most jobs have been added or reinstated in Sydney’s Parramatta (+20,600) and Ryde (+14,600) with the NSW Central Coast (+14,400) the third best performing region. But the data excludes the impact of Victoria’s level four restrictions, which will feature prominently in the August update.

What are the implications for investors? 

After the historic plunge in Aussie jobs due to first virus lockdown in April, the labour market is showing tentative signs of improvement as restrictions are eased and the economy (outside of Victoria) is gradually reopened. 

The July labour force report surprised on the upside, beating economist expectations of an addition of 30,000 jobs. In fact, employment rose in the month by 114,700. 

But the nascent recovery in the job market is incredibly uneven. While Victoria is likely to lose the most jobs because of lockdown 2.0, Queensland and Western Australia - which have both enjoyed more success at containing and suppressing the virus - aren’t faring much better. Queensland is highly dependent on interstate and international tourism. And Western Australia continues to be captive to the fortunes of mining. 

That said, with iron ore prices straddling 6½-year highs on the back of the Chinese industrial-led recovery, the Western Australian economy is well positioned to recover first from the COVID-19 recession. Already 19,100 jobs were added or reinstated in July with skilled job vacancies up by 11.3 per cent. 

NSW is managing to keep Sydney’s virus flare ups at bay for now. NSW - which has lost 134,300 jobs since February - added 56,800 jobs in July. Jobs are returning in Parramatta, Ryde and the nearby NSW Central Coast. But unemployment is high in NSW tourism and retiree ‘lifestyle’ regions, such as Coffs Harbour-Grafton (11.6 per cent) and Newcastle & Lake Macquarie (9.7 per cent). Policymakers certainly have a delicate balancing act addressing disparities in joblessness nationally. 

China’s industrial recovery continues with the country on track to rebound quickest of all major economies from the virus economic contraction. While stimulus is feeding through to construction, manufacturing and infrastructure activity, policymakers remain wary given high debt levels. China’s Loan Prime Rates have been stable - keeping mortgage and corporate lending rates anchored at low levels - but the State Council has said that it will cut rates again to support still-weak domestic demand, if necessary.

Ryan Felsman is a Senior Economist at CommSec

Staff reporter

Regional Australia
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