First we feared how bad Australia's economy might get. Now we worry how long it will be so bad | Greg Jericho

The latest jobs data snuffs out hopes that Australia is on the way to post-coronavirus recovery

The latest weekly jobs report from the Australian Bureau of Statistics has put a dampener on any hopes that a solid recovery is under way, and – worse – it might still be the best news for some time as the survey covers the period before the second wave hit.

In February and March the reality that Covid-19 was not going to be like Sars brought with it a fair helping of fear and anxiety about how bad things might be.

The second wave brings with it the anxiety of how long things might be bad.

We see this not just from reports such as Calla Wahlquist’s interviews with people in Melbourne on how they are coping this time around, but in the economic data.

On Tuesday the latest report of weekly payroll jobs snuffed out the hopes that maybe things were on the way back.

The bureau of statistics estimates that in the last week of June the number of jobs fell 1% – the first weekly fall since April:

The fall was felt mostly across the board but it was largest for women – a 1.7% fall in the last week of June and women of all ages saw bigger falls than their male peers.

But while that ended a nine-week run of job growth, we should not think we are anywhere close to where we were in early March. Even with that good run of jobs growth, the best we achieved was to be 4.8% below the number of jobs held on 14 March.

Now there are 5.7% fewer jobs:

The loss of jobs in the last part of June was surprisingly not experienced by teenagers. Their work picked up significantly:

Mostly this can be attributed to the recent strong growth of jobs in accommodation and food services and retail trade, which employ around two thirds of all teenagers.

There has also been recent strong growth in construction, manufacturing and arts and recreation jobs for teenagers. In the last two weeks of June, the number of jobs for teenagers in the arts and recreation sector rose 27%, compared with 5% for that industry overall.

But let us not begin to think all is well in the arts and accommodation and food services industries.

They have recovered from the worst, but the number of jobs in each industry remains around 20% below what it was in March:

When we look at the overall fall of jobs since the first lockdowns began, the picture remains one where the biggest losses are for the old and the young:

What is striking is how those in their 20s have become the age group to suffer the most.

This is reflective of the fact they work across a more diverse range of industries rather than concentrated in two, as are teenagers. Their labour is also more likely to be of a permanent arrangement rather than casual work at a junior rate.

As such, while the immediate large fall in teenage employment was to be expected – given their weak attachment to their job – the lack of recovery of work for those in the 20s (and also those in their 30s) points to the deeper, ongoing concerns with the economy:

If we were to look for some good news, it perhaps can be found in the reality that these figures (unlike, say, the monthly unemployment figures) are subject to large revisions. The past two releases have shown the situation to be better than previously estimated:

And so, perhaps the next release in two weeks’ time will be better than now.

But to be honest, that is unlikely – these latest figures only cover till the end of June and thus do not take into account the Melbourne shutdown that began the week after.

They do not take into account the impact of the outbreak spreading to New South Wales and Sydney.

And that, unfortunately, suggests the anxiety over how long this will last shall continue to be with us for some time to come.

• Greg Jericho writes on economics for Guardian Australia


Greg Jericho

The GuardianTramp

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