Across government and industry, decision makers waited with bated breath to read the unemployment rate for April, released by the Bureau of Statistics on Thursday.
We had already seen the queues of people outside Centrelink offices across the country, even in Canberra, a city which is often slightly insulated from the economic shocks felt elsewhere. Each person in those lines has a story of a job that was there one day, and gone the next, security replaced by insecurity.
Even with the expectation that it would be bad, that the public health response to coronavirus that had shut down industries overnight had taken a sledgehammer to the economy and jobs, there were moments in reading those numbers that were breath-taking.
Almost 600,000 people's jobs disappeared in one month alone, more than 200,000 of which were young people aged between 15 and 24.
While the unemployment rate itself grew to 6.2 per cent, that number hid much of the pain, with the under-utilisation rate, the number which includes both those who are unemployed and underemployed, reaching 19.9 per cent.
That's one in five people in the workforce who aren't working, or aren't working as much as they want to be.
If the government hadn't acted quickly and introduced the JobKeeper program, where businesses that have experienced a 30 per cent drop in revenue can claim wage subsidies for their employees, it is expected the unemployment rate would be as high as 11.7 per cent.
The words of sympathy for people out of work "through no fault of their own," will be jarring for those who were unemployed before the coronavirus crisis.
JobKeeper and doubling the JobSeeker unemployment payment have been the right calls by the government, which has averted pain for many.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison called the numbers "devastating," Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said it was "heartbreaking".
The words of sympathy for people out of work "through no fault of their own," will be jarring for those who were unemployed before the coronavirus crisis. They are unaccustomed to hearing anything other than lectures from government leaders.
Australia's safety net has become increasingly punitive, one that demands those who have fallen on hard times to undertake sometimes pointless and demeaning duties to prove they are not taking the taxpayer for a ride.
In the months before the virus hit, the government was warned in many forums that the administration of the unemployment system was at best ineffective and at worst harmful. Those on JobSeeker were paid $40 a day and faced losing that meagre payment if they failed to jump through the ever more difficult hoops set by the government.
The economy will take years to recover from coronavirus, and many jobs won't return at all. It is time for the government to reset the way it deals with the unemployed, especially the young who are starting their careers in a world that is unlike that experienced before.
It's a time for empathy, and evidence-based measures that actually help people gain new skills and meaningful employment, instead of just punishing them for falling on hard times.
This doesn't mean that those receiving unemployment payments should be able to do so without fulfilling any requirements at all. But is a chance to look at what actually works, rather than rhetoric that demonises those most in need of our help
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