Young hit hardest by coronavirus job losses, ABS reveals

Lengthy queues formed outside the country's Centrelink offices in the days after coronavirus restrictions were imposed.

Lengthy queues formed outside the country's Centrelink offices in the days after coronavirus restrictions were imposed. Photo: AAP

The number of jobs in Australia plunged 6 per cent in just three weeks as the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic hit the national economy.

That amounts to roughly 781,000 job losses on top of the 718,600 unemployed Australians counted in last week’s labour force data

Australian Bureau of Statistics data released on Tuesday reveals the devastating impact of job losses as businesses shut across the country and travel was effectively banned between March 14 and April 4.

As jobs were lost, the impact was felt hardest by young workers, and in particular industries.

“The largest impact of net job losses, in percentage terms, was for people aged under 20, for whom jobs decreased by 9.9 per cent,” bureau labour statistics chief Bjorn Jarvis said.

More than one in four jobs (25.6 per cent) in accommodation and food services were lost, along with nearly one in five (18.7 per cent) in arts and recreation services.

Source: ABS

Mr Jarvis said Tasmania and Victoria had the largest decreases in jobs, down by 7.3 per cent and 6.8 per cent.

The figures are based on single-touch payroll data from the Australian Tax Office. It also shows that total wages paid by Australian businesses fell 6.7 per cent in the same three-week period.

“Looking at the week-to-week changes, the decrease in jobs in the week ending 4 April 2020 was 5.5 per cent, significantly larger than the 0.5 per cent decrease in the week ending 28 March 2020,” Mr Jarvis said.

Later on Tuesday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said 517,000 JobSeeker (unemployment) claims had been processed since March 16 – more than would normally be done in a year.

“That is half a million people who need that payment and support,” he said.

EY Oceania chief economist Jo Masters said the latest ABS numbers showed how rapidly the economy had deteriorated following the introduction of social distancing measures.

“The data reinforces the expectation that unemployment will rise sharply when the April labour force figures are reported in mid-May, and that household income – even for those still on the payroll – has been hit hard,” Ms Masters said.

In the days from Monday, March 23, thousands of people queued outside Centrelink offices across Australia after coronavirus restrictions led many employers to shut their doors.

On the same day, Centrelink’s website collapsed under the weight of more than 100,000 people trying to use it to claim benefits.

Government Services Minister Stuart Robert initially blamed the collapse on a denial of service hacking attack, before admitting the website had simply been overwhelmed by demand.

By the end of that week, the Morrison government had unveiled its $130 billion JobKeeper package, which is designed to keep workers on payrolls until COVID-19 restrictions can be eased. In turn, that will keep the country’s unemployment rate lower than it might have otherwise been.

Tuesday’s ABS data reinforces the view that official unemployment figures for March – which showed the jobless rate ticking up from 5.1 per cent to 5.2 per cent – have not yet revealed the full extent of coronavirus job losses.

The ABS conducted the March jobless rate survey between March 8-28, before the full weight of virus restrictions were imposed.

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