Virus unemployment higher than expected and many are missing out on help

Contributed by Ben Wilson

The number of unemployed in Australia have spiked during the coronavirus lockdown. This is no surprise. Treasury had estimated that unemployment would spike to 10 percent in June. It had already gone past that by mid April, to over 11 percent.

More surprising is that fewer businesses than expected, have taken up the JobKeeper wage subsidy offered by the government. This could suggest that more employers than expected have opted to sack workers, instead of merely sending them home for a time.

If this is true, the rise in unemployment is going to last a lot longer than we are being led to believe.

Just one third of the workforce is being subsidised, when a much larger proportion has been sent home. It is clear that many are missing out on help.

Think tank the Grattan Institute calculated in April, that up to 3.4 million Australians would end up out of work in this pandemic. This is 26 percent of the workforce. This is masked by those receiving the JobKeeper subsidy. It also masks the extent and impact of reduced earnings. This will become increangly important as we move forward.

Australian unemployment figures notoriously underestimate the number of those without work. Nor do they consider that a large part of the workforce is in casual work and many of these are underemployed. The situation is even worse than the numbers given indicate.

It is clear that many are missing out on help.

Photo from AFP: Lining up outside Centrelink in Melbourne

Underemployed and younger workers have been the first to be stood down.

Research released on Thursday from the Australian National University found, young people and casual workers were the most likely to have lost their jobs in the past two months

ANU professor Matthew Gray estimated that “The employment slump has hit the most precarious workers the hardest,” in a report written as colleague Nicholas Biddle.

According to professor Gray, lack of work has delivered household budgets a $102 billion hit. This will be a serous blow to the retail industry, and translate through the whole economy. More businesses will close, and more jobs will be lost as a result.

This is a time to step up of measures to protect jobs and create new ones. There are good grounds to bring in a minimum guaranteed income for all, to be paid for by not reducing tax on the biggest corporations and richest individuals. They should be expected to shoulder a burden for the sake of those who don’t have the means and the economy from which they profit.

This is a time for an increase in public works, which simultaneously build the economic foundation of the nation and create more jobs, in industries that will provide best for the future. Here is a chance to kick start the rebirth of a more diverse economy, with manufacturing and sustainable development at the core.

Creating more full time jobs is a good way to reverse the increasing casualisation of work and provide households with income relief.

Change like this requires a vision of where Australia should go into the future, which differs from the bankrupt trickle down view of the world.

The Coalition has shown no inclination to go down this road.

Labor leaders Anthony Albanese has an opportunity to be different, as he lays out his plan for addressing casualisation, the death of manufacturing and the shortage of affordable housing on Monday next week

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