Following the end of the JobKeeper payment, the Coalition government pointed to Australia’s jobs figures as evidence the economy was bouncing back strongly from the coronavirus pandemic.
On May 20, 2021, the day the latest jobs data was released, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg told reporters: “More Australians are in work than were in work prior to the pandemic”.
Mr Frydenberg previously used his May 11 budget speech to claim Australia had “seen employment go above its pre-pandemic levels”.
So, are more Australians in work now than before the pandemic?
RMIT ABC Fact Check investigates.
Mr Frydenberg’s claim is a fair call.
The April 2021 jobs figures show there were roughly 46,000 more Australians working than in March 2020, when the pandemic struck.
As experts noted, there are other ways to assess the health of the jobs market.
Viewed as a share of the population (aged 15 and over), employment was close to March 2020 levels, sitting 0.1 percentage points lower in April 2021.
It was also similar to the average for the year before the pandemic.
While the April employment to population ratio dipped slightly from the previous month, experts said the figures showed a return to pre-pandemic employment levels.
However, the gains have been spread unevenly.
There were, for example, more jobs in Queensland and Western Australia than before the pandemic, but fewer in NSW and Victoria.
And while certain industries, such as health care and public administration, have thrived, others, such as hospitality, have gone backwards.
In addition, the proportion of the population officially counted as “unemployed” remains slightly higher than it was at the beginning of the pandemic.
The start of the pandemic
The World Health Organisation declared a global pandemic on March 11, 2020, as the SARS-CoV-2 virus spread around the world.
State governments, also tightening rules on movement and gatherings, announced initial economic support packages from March 11.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics generally collects the official jobs data “during the two weeks beginning on the Sunday between the 5th and 11th of each month”.
Fact Check has adopted March 2020 as a baseline for the jobs market as it stood “prior to the pandemic”.
Though arguably February could also be used, Fact Check found employment levels changed little between the two months.
What happened to total employment?
At the time of Mr Frydenberg’s claim, the latest jobs data was for April 2021.
Fact Check has relied on seasonally adjusted figures, noting that from April 2020 the ABS suspended its trend series due to uncertainty around the underlying employment trends during the pandemic.
In simple terms, the data shows that there were indeed more Australians working in April 2021 than in March 2020, with a net increase of 45,900 jobs over 13 months.
These were split roughly 50-50 between full-time (24,600) and part-time (21,300) jobs.
Almost 90 per cent of these jobs went to women, with female employment up 40,700 and male employment up 5,200 since March 2020.
A growing population
Importantly, the jobs count alone tells only part of the story.
Experts told Fact Check that a more meaningful measure for assessing the health of the labour market was the employment-to-population ratio, as it factors in the impact of population growth.
The ABS calculates this ratio using estimates for the population aged 15 and over, which grew by roughly 78,000 during the…