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Shocking number of Aussies actually unemployed

The real unemployment rate is much higher than you think.

A composite image of office workers and a person working from home looking stressed to represent unemployment.
The number of Aussies currently unemployed is larger than you might think. (Source: AAP / Getty)

While Australia’s official unemployment rate sits at 3.7 per cent, the actual number of Aussies either not working or not working enough is much higher.

In August, ‘real’ unemployment increased by 1.9 per cent to 11 per cent - an estimated 1.7 million Australians - according to the latest Roy Morgan employment series data.

This is the highest rate of unemployment for more than two years since March 2021, during the middle of the pandemic.

The August Roy Morgan Unemployment estimate was obtained by surveying an Australia-wide cross section of people aged 14 years and over.

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Officially, a person is classified as unemployed if they are looking for work, no matter when. The ‘real’ unemployment rate is presented as a percentage of the entire potential workforce (employed and unemployed).

Australian employment fell by 132,000 to 13,648,000 in August. The decrease was due to a fall in full-time employment, down 274,000 to 8,796,000, although there was an increase in part-time employment, which was up 142,000 to 4,852,000.

In August, 1.6 million Australians were unemployed (11 per cent of the workforce), an increase of 305,000 from July.

More people were looking for full-time work and more people were looking for part-time work – both at their highest level since March quarter 2021.

Many Aussies need more work

In addition to the unemployed, 1.4 million Australians (9.1 per cent of the workforce) were underemployed - in other words, working part-time but looking for more work. In total, 3.08 million Australians (20.1 per cent of the workforce) were either unemployed or underemployed in August, up by 268,000 from July.

Why is the official unemployment rate lower?

Roy Morgan’s unemployment figure of 11 per cent is almost triple the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) estimate of 3.7 per cent for July but is in line with the combined ABS unemployment and underemployment figure of 10.1 per cent.

The latest monthly figures from the ABS indicated that the number of people working fewer hours in July due to illness, injury or sick leave was 566,400. This is around 127,500 higher than the pre-pandemic average of the six years to July 2019 (438,930) – a difference of 127,470.

If those 127,470 workers were added to the combined ABS unemployment and underemployment figure of 1.47 million, a total of 1.6 million people could be considered unemployed or underemployed - equivalent to 11 per cent of the workforce.

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