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Employed people or jobs: semantics or an important difference in terminology?

Go Between Bridge Construction Workers
Image source: Wikimedia Commons.
In March (2013), the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) released new analysis of the Australian labour market based on jobs. Their article, Estimating jobs in the Australian Labour Market, outlines the differences between the number of jobs and the number of employed people, and complements regular labour market data produced by the ABS. Estimates of the number of jobs were produced using the monthly Labour Force Survey, the quarterly Job Vacancies Survey and the 2007 Survey of Employment Arrangements, Retirement and Superannuation.

Changes in estimates of employed people may mistakenly be referred to as jobs ’created’ or ‘lost’. However, a job is the (paid) work that a person does and a person may hold more than one of these roles. People who hold more than one job are referred to by the ABS as multiple job holders. For example, in February 2013 there were 11,628,300 employed people in Australia (seasonally adjusted). Of these, 610,500 were multiple job holders, resulting in an estimated 12,287,200 (filled) jobs. This highlights that there were 658,900 more (filled) jobs than there were employed people.

The difference between employed people and jobs also needs to be considered when analysing full-time and part-time work. The ABS classifies full-time workers as people who usually work 35 hours or more per week (or did so during the survey reference week). These hours may be worked in one or more jobs. Therefore, it is possible for a person to be considered a full-time worker even though they hold a range of part-time jobs. For example, in February 2013 there were 8,117,400 full-time employed people (seasonally adjusted), compared with 7,943,100 full-time (filled) jobs. This highlights that there were 174,400 fewer full-time jobs than people employed full-time. Similarly, there were 3,510,800 part-time employed people (seasonally adjusted), compared with 4,261,300 part-time (filled) jobs. These differences are illustrated in the graph below.

Source: ABS, 'Estimating jobs in the Australian labour market', Labour force, Australia, Feb 2013, cat. no. 6202.0.

The ABS article also explains that increases and decreases in the number of jobs over time do not simply equate to jobs created and lost, but that they need to be understood in terms of the flow of jobs. For example, a net increase of ten jobs may result from one business closing down and twenty people losing their jobs (twenty lost), while another business opens and hires thirty people (thirty created). More information on estimating jobs, comparisons of employment and jobs data over time and the details of the methodology used to produce the estimates are available from the ABS.