This must be frustrating the bears as much as flat housing investment frustrates the bulls – unemployment keeps refusing to skyrocket the way the doomsday brigade, tabloid headlines and the federal opposition promise.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics November labour force survey is more of the same – a soft but still positive labour market with more jobs being created than lost.
It’s the nature of news that we tend only to hear about jobs being shed and not those being created. A retail chain failing is news, Woolworths opening new supermarkets is not. Five months after the start of the carbon tax, the sky still hasn’t fallen.
Not that there’s anything optimistic about today’s figures either. Ignore the dip in the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate – the trend series tells the more reliable story of more of the same: the unemployment rate steady on 5.3 per cent, up just 0.1 from this time last year; the participation rate steady at 65.1 per cent but down 0.3 from November 2011.
There were 11,535,200 Australians with jobs last month, up by nearly 120,000 over the year. Importantly, the vast majority of those new jobs (104,600) were full time – another little work force myth exposed.
The latest release contains statistical revisions based on better population numbers. The main impact is to smooth out some of the lumpiness in employment and participation rates over the past couple of years. Turns out employment growth hasn’t slowed as much as previously thought, because it was already fairly slow. The relative surge in employment in late 2010 has been revised away.
The welter of other statistics released over the past week points to the labour market weakening further as population growth picks up and Australia’s mini-fiscal cliff (OK, let’s call it “Australia’s steep creek bank”) takes its toll.
Well, that’s what’s supposed to happen anyway given the various preconditions, just as our building of dwellings should pick up given the various preconditions. Now, if the latter could just happen before the former … but it probably won’t.
As usual, those of a certain political or psychological disposition won’t want to believe the ABS. Apparently their figures are always wrong if they don’t agree with your preconceptions. But we keep getting the same result, survey after survey.
In the end, there’s a vastly stronger chance of the ABS being correct than the anecdotal claims of some businesses and individuals.
Or you can always try to turn the numbers inside out to make them fit. Crikey’s Bernard Keane deserves credit for nailing the following quote as the dumbest thing Joe Hockey has said this year: "The Reserve Bank is trying to catch a falling Australian economy. The government is making it worse by going on a big taxing, big spending program."
Er, no – it’s the opposite. And that’s bipartisan.
Michael Pascoe is a BusinessDay contributing editor