This week is National Careers Week - an apt time for an election to fall, with so many parliamentary jobs hanging in the balance.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has been vocal in sharing the unemployment rate recently, as it is sitting at a 48-year low of 4 per cent, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. This seems like a cause to celebrate, but is it really?
Roy Morgan's employment estimates released last month indicate that this figure is far higher in reality. According to its research, 1.13 million Australians (7.8 per cent) are in fact unemployed. That's a disparity of 567,000 people that the ABS isn't counting as unemployed but Roy Morgan is.
So where are all these extra people coming from? It comes down to methodology.
The ABS surveys people by telephone, with each household selected being interviewed for eight months, and one-eighth of the sample being replaced each month. They consider an Australian to be employed if, when surveyed, a person worked for just one hour or more during the reference week for pay, profit, commission or payment in kind - or even without pay in a family business or farm. The ABS also only considers a person to be unemployed if, when surveyed, a person has been actively looking for work in the four weeks up to the end of the reference week, and were available for work.
On the other hand, Roy Morgan surveys people face-to-face, and classifies a person as unemployed if "they are looking for work, no matter what" - indicating their figures give a more accurate representation of unemployment in our country.
All this is interesting and all (just stay with me), but what does this difference actually mean?
Well, it's another example of puffery and lying in political advertising. It's about overinflating the good by moving the goal posts until you get a number (4 per cent, in this instance) you like, and then trying to use that number to demonstrate how well you are going in the political driver's seat.
What this number doesn't tell us is the number of people who have given up trying to find work, or who aren't looking because their physical or mental health precludes them from holding down a job. It also doesn't tell us anything about the people trying to hold on to three jobs just to make ends meet.
It also doesn't tell us about the stagnation in wages, and the alarming rise in the cost of living that is sending all of us to the two-minute noodle aisle. And it simplifies the concept of inflation, trying to frame it as a sign of a "healthy economy" while a packet of nine mid-loin lamb chops costs $30 on special in the supermarkets.
Our inflation target - i.e. the target for achieving economic stability between price, employment, prosperity and Australians' welfare - is between 2 and 3 per cent. Well managed, steady inflation is a good thing for our economy. However, if inflation rises too high, too quickly (faster than wage growth), the real value of money is reduced and we are likely to see a period of deflation, which is not a good thing for our economy.
The inflation rate has reached 5.1 per cent nationally this financial year, with WA bearing the burden of a 7.6 per cent rate. When, in response to the rising inflation figure, Mr Frydenberg states "I believe that households and businesses in Australia are in a strong position" and then tries to take credit for that strong position because of his economic leadership, I can't help but wonder if he's asked anyone for their opinion outside his circle of wealthy mates. I also can't help but wonder whether he would equally take responsibility for the heartburn of economic panic most of us are currently living with, should he choose to expand his horizons and acknowledge the average Australian's lived experience in his economy. There isn't a Quick Eze strong enough to ease that burn quickly.
Mr Frydenberg claims it's not the time to change horses; that it's not the time to vote for "fake" independents or "weak" Labor, or indeed for the "confusion" of a hung parliament. But frankly, when our Treasurer cannot acknowledge the struggle we are going through, insists on weakly puffing us up with false bravado, and cites a fake unemployment rate as evidence of his success, I cannot imagine a more important time to change horses. I suggest Mr Frydenberg takes advantage of the resources available this National Careers Week to start polishing up his resume.
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