On March 29 of this year, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced nationwide social distancing restrictions in response to COVID-19. Was it really only 30 days ago? I don't know about you, but I feel like it was 30 months ago.
Recent data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics mapping changes to businesses and households, reveals that 66 per cent of businesses reported their turnover or cash flow had reduced as a result of COVID-19, and 24 per cent of people were working fewer hours. Between March 14 and April 4, jobs decreased by 6 per cent and for people under 20, jobs decreased by 9.9 per cent.
Perhaps unsurprisingly accommodation and food services together with arts and recreation services saw the largest reduction in jobs (down 25.6 per cent and 18.7 per cent respectively). The decrease in jobs is growing as we continue down the lockdown rabbit hole, with the week ending April 4, seeing the greatest decrease at 5.5 per cent.
The Grattan Institute predicts that 14-26 per cent of Australian workers could be out of work in the coming weeks. Lower income workers are twice as likely to be out of work than high income earners and it's estimated that young people and women will be hit the hardest. Frighteningly, the Institute predicts an unemployment rate to rise to between 10 and 15 per cent, with Treasury projecting a 10 per cent unemployment rate as early as mid-May.
The Grattan Institute predicts that 14-26 per cent of Australian workers could be out of work in the coming weeks.
While some industries are temporarily growing, the number of average weekly job posts has seen an overall 50 per cent decline in April of this year in comparison to April of last year.
Furthermore, the minutes from the Reserve Bank of Australia's March 18 board meeting reveal the expectation that job losses are expected to continue for the months ahead. Much of this data is a month old, which means the statistics are not even indicative of the full extent of our current labour experience.
The labour market rarely bounces back from experiences like this quickly, but given the extensive government supports in place, it's possible we could recover faster. The longer the downturn continues, the less likely this will happen.
But what happens when the jobs don't immediately come back when the lockdown is finally relieved? If the projections of long-term recovery are true, if businesses have to slowly rebuild and can't just go back to "business as usual" on day one of lifted restrictions, will the government be able to sustain increased payments to individuals and business relief beyond September 25?
We are awaiting the report from the most recent Senate inquiry into raising the Newstart/JobSeeker rate that has been delayed until April 30. The previous report from the 2012 Senate inquiry into the same proposal acknowledged that the payment was inadequate to live on and that the rate level had a negative impact on people's ability to find work through adding stresses regarding cost of transport to and from interviews, cost of appropriate clothes, stress regarding rent, housing, food, etc. However, the report rejected the proposal to raise the rate based on the idea that "the best form of welfare is a job" (don't get me started on that) and by demanding the inquiry contributors identify the budgetary means of paying for the increase without increasing the percentage spend on welfare.
So what's changed? It appears that the pandemic has uncovered the cruel reality that keeping the Newstart/JobSeeker payment to below the poverty line is an economic decision and not a social welfare one. If the 2012 Senate inquiry acknowledged that the regular level of payment had a negative impact on people's ability to find work, but still insisted on the policy of not raising the rate, how can the government then effectively doubled the payment when they expect a large number of people to be experiencing unemployment? What else can be concluded but that the rate is connected not to the wellbeing of the recipients, but to the impact on the economy of people not having any money to spend?
We are told that history will judge us by how we treat our most vulnerable, but in reality, history is told by the victors and the rich. Will this period be remembered as a time of great generosity or limited reprieve from the boot on our throats to better line the pockets of the wealthy? Only time will tell.
Zoë Wundenberg is a careers consultant and un/employment advocateat impressability.com.au