Scott Morrison has declared Australia now has more jobs than it had before the COVID-19 pandemic in a “remarkable” economic fightback.
The unemployment rate plunged from 6.4 per cent to 5.8 per cent in February, with the economy adding a further 88,700 jobs.
The result defied the expectations of economists, with many predicting the number of jobs would decline as companies prepared for the removal of the JobKeeper wage subsidy.
“There are more jobs in the Australian economy than there were before the pandemic. That is something that is truly remarkable and is a great credit to every Australian who hung in there, every Australian business who kept people in jobs,’’ the Prime Minister said.
“More jobs now than when the recession began.
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“These jobs numbers are a real shot in the arm and that will only boost us as we go into the next phase, as we get to the end of this month and Australia will continue to lead the world out of the COVID-19 pandemic and the recession it created.”
Employment increased to 13,006,900, and is now higher than its pre-COVID peak of 13,003,900 last year.
However, the number of people who are employed but want more hours continues to be a problem. Underemployment lifted to 8.5 per cent in February, from 8.1 per cent.
In a promising sign, however, full-time employment increased by 89,100.
The Prime Minister said that underlined the fact that despite the turnaround, there was more work to be done.
“There are more hours still needed. There is still a lot more to do, particularly for young people and even though the youth unemployment rate has pleasingly fallen, there is still a distance to travel,’’ he said.
He added that the positive news on the jobs outlook was a sign that the time had come to withdraw the JobKeeper wage subsidy.
“JobKeeper must come to an end. It has done its job,’’ he said.
“As I said, at each stage of our gear change on JobKeeper, we have seen the economy continue to move forward.
“Now, we are going into that final phase when it comes to JobKeeper and that is why I am pleased we are going into it with a strong run-up.”
Controversy continues, however, over companies that claimed JobKeeper before posting record profits – and whether or not they should be asked to refund the money to taxpayers.
“I’ve always said that is a matter for those companies, and many have, and I commend them for doing so,’’ Mr Morrison said.
“I am absolutely certain that JobKeeper has saved lives in this country and so it has been a tremendously successful program, but even tremendously successful programs must gear into the next phase and that is where we are heading now.”
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Callam Pickering, APAC economist at global job site Indeed, said the recovery had smashed predictions.
“February’s employment figures mark an important milestone for Australia’s economic recovery,” Mr Pickering said.
“While the recovery is not yet complete, and challenges remain, we have made considerable progress. The recovery has progressed much faster than policymakers anticipated.
“Employment for those aged 15 – 24 is still down 3.8 per cent from its pre-crisis peak, with employment among 25 – 34 year olds down 2.6 per cent. We run the risk of a youth unemployment problem if this persists.”
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said today’s figures represented a big success story.
“The strength and resilience of the Australian economy is on display again today,’’ he said.