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'Heartbreaking': 594,300 Australian jobs lost in April

People queue up outside a Centrelink office in Melbourne on April 20, 2020.
The coronavirus shutdown could have an enduring impact on jobs and the economy for years to come. (Photo by WILLIAM WEST/AFP via Getty Images)

Health restrictions that shut down many businesses have led to an all-time high of 594,300 Australians losing their jobs in April.

This dwarfs the previous record in October 1982 when 65,400 people became unemployed in a single month.

Different analysts had forecast anywhere between 400,000 and 1,000,000 Australians becoming unemployed in April.

Australia's unemployment rate hit 6.2 per cent in April, revealed the Australian Bureau of Statistics on Thursday morning, which was one full percentage point higher than the previous month.

Federal treasurer Josh Frydenberg described the numbers as “heartbreaking” and said that this was a “tough day”.


“These are families. These are friends. These are neighbours,” he said.

“594,000 fewer Australians are in the job – 325,000 of those are women. The youth unemployment rate is fallen has risen to 13.8 per cent up from 11.5 per cent.”

The ABS estimated 2.7 million Australians were affected in some way between March and April.

“900,000 people were employed in March, but not employed in April and 1.8 million people worked either fewer than their usual hours, or no hours at all, for ‘economic reasons’,” it stated.

Out of the 1.8 million, more than 750,000 did not work at all and more than 1 million worked fewer hours than usual.

Even though the coronavirus downturn came in March, that month the unemployment rate remained steady at 5.2 per cent. This is because the ABS collected the numbers in the first half of the month, when the economic restrictions hadn't yet fully taken effect.

The latest numbers reflect what went on in the second half of March and first half of April, when long queues were seen outside Centrelink offices.

Underemployment rises, participation rate sinks

The big shock was the rise in the underemployment rate, which went up a whopping 4.9 percentage points to 13.7 per cent.

Underemployed workers are ones who have a job but with not as many hours as they would like. Many Australians may now fall under this category after their employer kept them on but on reduced hours.

This rate also counts some employees who are on JobKeeper benefits, who may have been forced on leave or on reduced workload.

The unemployment rate also does not count people who have given up looking for another job.

Australians who are not actively looking jumped a massive amount – with the participation rate dropping by 2.4 percentage points to 63.5 per cent.

“Had the increase in the number of people who were not in the labour force (489,900) been a further increase in unemployment (that is, if they had been actively looking for work and been available to work) then the number of unemployed people would have increased to around 1.3 million people, and an unemployment rate would have increased to around 9.6 per cent,” stated the ABS.

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