The ABS released the results of its August Labour Force survey today. Unemployment fell from 5.3% to 5.1% in one month. There were 30 900 more employed Australians in August than in July, with full time employment surging and part time employment falling. There are still problems, to be sure. There are still hundreds of thousands of people unemployed, underemployed or discouraged from seeking work. But virtually every other developed nation would fall over themselves for labour force figures like these.
I would have thought that any competent journalist could write a compelling story about this beautiful set of numbers. There are any number of angles. They could write about the light that these figures cast on the election result: a first-term government struggled to get re-elected with a world’s-best unemployment rate. They could write about the rise of full time employment, as workers whose hours were cut during the downturn have them restored. They could write about the gender split in the numbers, or the breakdown by State. They could write about the sheer alleviation of human misery that these numbers represent: find someone who has found a job after a while out of work, and talk to them about what it means for their family and their self esteem.
What do we get instead?
Instead of stories about the news itself, we get some market economist speculating about the potential implications for the overnight cash rate.
Employment and unemployment don’t matter in themselves, apparently. They’re only evaluated in light of the sole arbiter of economic performance that some journalists seem to understand. Forget the tens of thousands of people who now have jobs, forget the thousands already working who can feel a little bit more secure. No, all that matters is that the increase in employment might make the RBA more likely to increase the overnight cash rate.
For what it’s worth, the futures market is now pricing in a 24% likelihood that rates will increase at the next RBA board meeting, up from only a 7% likelihood yesterday. It seems like a minor aspect of this story to me, but I’m not a journalist.
(I should say that the ABC’s excellent business reporter Michael Janda wrote a balanced piece that covers the detail of the employment numbers themselves, not just the interest rate angle).