Australia Jobless Rate Steady At 3.5%, Employment Unexpectedly Falls

Australia’s unemployment rate remained unchanged in December, but employment logged an unexpected fall and hours worked contracted as consecutive interest rate hikes by the Reserve Bank started to hit the labor market.

The unemployment rate held steady at a seasonally adjusted 3.5 percent in December, the Australian Bureau of Statistics said Thursday. The rate was forecast to remain unchanged at November’s initially estimated 3.4 percent.

Employment declined 14,600 in December from the previous month, confounding expectations for an increase of 22,500, and November’s increase of around 58,200.

The participation rate stood at 66.6 percent in December compared to a revised 66.8 percent in November.

The underemployment rate increased to 6.1 percent in December from 5.8 percent in November.

“The strong employment growth through 2022, along with high participation and low unemployment, continues to reflect a tight labor market,” Lauren Ford, head of labor statistics at the ABS, said.

Monthly hours worked decreased 0.5 percent to 1.88 billion in December.

The number of people working reduced hours due to illness increased by about 86,000 to 606,000 in December, which was over 50 percent higher than usually seen at this time of the year.

Figures are consistent with the unemployment rate soon rising to around 3.7 percent, Capital Economics economist Marcel Thieliant said. The jobless rate is forecast to reach 5.0 percent by the end of next year.

The Reserve Bank of Australia has tightened its interest rate by a total 300 basis points since April 2022. The board expects to increase interest rates further over the period ahead. The RBA next meets on February 7.

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