Updated 9 December 2015
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Statistics and Mapping Section
This guide provides a brief overview of
unemployment, an introduction to the key concepts and terminology, and lists
relevant data sources. This is one in a series of statistical quick guides,
designed to provide a basic understanding of Australian labour market data.
Other guides include labour
unemployment, which are available from the Parliamentary
In the labour force framework, unemployed people
form part of the currently active population, who along with the employed
constitute the labour force (see diagram below).
ABS, Labour Statistics: Concepts, sources and methods, 2013, cat. no. 6102.0.55.001
Who are unemployed people?
The International Labour
Organization (ILO) describes unemployed people as those who are: without
work; currently available for work; and deliberately seeking work. The concept
of ‘without work’ is used to distinguish unemployed people from the employed. A
person must not have undertaken any work at all (not even for one hour) during
the reference period.
How is unemployment measured?
The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS)
conducts a monthly Labour
Force Survey. This household survey is designed to produce key
estimates of unemployment (and employment) from a sample of approximately 56,000
people. The survey’s definition of unemployment closely aligns with
international standards and guidelines.
persons are defined as all persons aged 15 years and over who were not
employed during the reference week and:
actively looked for work and were available to work (in the reference week),
waiting to start a new job.
Note that the Labour Force Survey
excludes some groups of people, including those living in institutions, members
of permanent defence forces, certain diplomatic personnel, and overseas
residents. More information is available from the ABS.
Active steps to find work
The concept of ‘actively looking for work’
requires a person to have undertaken at least one active step in the search for
work at any time in the four weeks up to the end of the reference week. Active steps are considered those which put a
person in contact with a prospective employer, either directly or through an
intermediary. The types of steps include:
registering with an employment agency
applying for jobs with employers
undertaking an interview with an employer
placing or answering job advertisements, and
seeking assistance from friends or relatives to find a job.
Steps taken towards the establishment of an
enterprise for self-employment are also considered to be active.
A general declaration of being ‘in search of work’ is not sufficient for someone
to be classified as unemployed. From July 2014 the types of activities that the
ABS considers to be ‘active’ vary slightly from earlier periods.
Waiting to start a new job
In recognition that not all job seekers are able to
immediately start their new job once offered, anyone expecting to start a new
job within four weeks from the end of the reference week is classified as
unemployed if they were available to start work during the reference week.
What are the key measures?
The number of unemployed people
Each month the ABS
estimates the number of unemployed people, releasing trend, seasonally adjusted
and original data. Data is available on unemployed people by age, sex, social
marital status, country of birth (limited), state or territory of residence,
labour market region, full-time educational attendance (youth only), and
duration of job search.
Changes in the number of unemployed people (increases or
decreases in the number of ‘jobseekers’) are sometimes mistakenly referred to
as gains or losses of jobs. While the loss of a job certainly may lead to a
person being classified as unemployed, it is whether or not they are employed
that is being measured.
Graph 1 provides changes in the number of unemployed people by
sex from the start of the data series until the most recent period.
1. Unemployed persons – trend
ABS, Labour force, September 2015, cat. no. 6202.0
Graph 2 provides the number of unemployed people looking for
full-time work. The ABS also measures the number of people seeking part-time
work. The type of work sought is based on the responder’s perception.
2. Unemployed persons looking for full-time work – trend
ABS, Labour force, September 2015, cat. no. 6202.0
is unemployed people expressed as a proportion of the labour force (in the same
age group). This key measure is used to assess the availability of jobs in the
labour market. A high rate reflects that there are more people actively looking
for work than there are jobs available. Graph 3 (on the next page) provides the
unemployment rate by sex from the start of the data series until the most
3. Unemployment rate – trend
ABS, Labour force, September 2015, cat. no. 6202.0
Unemployed people who have not worked for 52 weeks or
longer are classified as long-term unemployed.
The longer people are unemployed, the harder it may be to
return to, or gain, employment. In a 2011 article, the ABS
suggest that long-term unemployment may lead to an erosion of social or
workplace networks, skills, confidence or motivation. This section provides a
brief overview of long-term unemployment, with more detailed information
available in a separate quick guide.
Duration of job search
The ABS measures the duration of job search as the period
of time that has elapsed since an unemployed person began looking for work (and
was available to work). The period is measured up to the end of the reference
week. Any brief period of work (greater than one hour) during the job seeking
period will result in a break in the period looking. Prior to July 2014, the
ABS measured the duration of unemployment based on different parameters for
both looking for work and breaks in the period of looking. More information is
available from the ABS, see Information
paper: Forthcoming changes to labour force statistics, Jun 2014, cat.
Graph 4 provides changes in the number of long-term unemployed
people by sex from the start of the data series until the most recent period.
4. Long-term unemployed people – trend
ABS, Labour force, detailed – electronic delivery, September
2015, cat. no. 6291.0.55.001
Long-term unemployment ratio
The long-term unemployment ratio
expresses the number of people unemployed for 52 weeks or more as a
proportion of all unemployed people. Time series data is available from the
Parliamentary Library’s Monthly
Statistical Bulletin, see ‘1.4 Long-term unemployment’.
A separate Quick Guide on youth
unemployment is available from the Parliamentary Library website. The guide
contains information on various measures that may be used to assess youth
unemployment, such as the youth unemployment rate and ratio. Other publications
on regional statistics include: Youth
unemployment statistics for small geographic areas: a quick guide and Youth
unemployment rates in small geographic areas - 2013.
Sources of ABS labour force data
The ABS produces labour force estimates, including
unemployment, through the monthly Labour Force Survey. Labour data is
also available from a range of supplementary labour surveys, social surveys and
some business surveys. Key indicators are available from: Labour
force, cat. no. 6202.0; Labour
force, detailed – electronic delivery, cat. no. 6291.0.55.001;
force, detailed, quarterly, cat. no. 6291.0.55.003.
Regional estimates of unemployment are
released by the ABS in Labour
force, detailed – electronic delivery, cat. no. 6291.0.55.001,
see Table 16 and Data Cubes RM1 and RM3. This release provides data for the
smallest geographic areas available (excluding the Census). Data is from the
original (unadjusted) series and due to the small sample sizes the sampling
errors with some estimates may be quite high.
Statistical Area Level 4 (SA4)
Statistical Area Level 4 regions are
designed for the dissemination of labour force estimates and to reflect labour
markets within each state and territory. They cover 87 spatial areas across
Australia. For more information see Australian
Statistical Geography Standard (ASGS): Volume 1 – Main structure and Greater
capital city statistical areas, July 2011, cat. no. 1270.0.55.001 (Main
Structure > Statistical Area Level 4 (SA4)).
The ABS is responsible for collecting and disseminating
results from the five-yearly Census of Population and Housing. The Basic
Community Profile series provides selected labour force data for small statistical
(e.g. Commonwealth and State Electoral Divisions) including unemployment rates.
Note: data relating to Commonwealth Electoral Divisions in Victoria and South
Australia reflect the boundaries at the time of the 2010 Federal Election. For
more information see ABS, Statistical
Geography Fact Sheet, Commonwealth and State Electoral Divisions.
Other data sources
The Statistics and Mapping Section of the Parliamentary
Library provide regular updates on unemployed persons (based on ABS data) in
the Monthly Statistical
Bulletin, see: 1.2 Unemployment; 1.4 Long-term unemployment;
1.5 Youth unemployment, and 8.3 International comparisons – unemployment rates.
The Department of Employment publishes relevant ABS
regional labour force data (SA4) through their Labour Market Information Portal.
They also provide information on Newstart (and some other) benefit recipients
by Employment Service Area based on Department of Social Services administrative
data. Additionally, they produce a quarterly Small
Area Labour Markets publication based on ABS SA2s (smaller geographic
regions than SA4s) and Local Government Areas (LGAs).
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