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Discussion paper

#changethestats: a new way of talking about unemployment

1 Feb 2019
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#Changethestats. At first glance such a hashtag is not as sexy as the Australian Council of Trade Union’s #changetherules campaign to reform our workplace laws or #changethedate. Sexy it may not be but it’s crucial to tackling inequality, insecure work, stagnant wages, and securing our nation’s long-term economic prosperity. For too long front-page statistics – the ones that impact people’s lives – have been hiding the real economic story.

Consider the nation’s headline statistic regarding who is looking for a job, the monthly and quarterly unemployment rate published by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. The latest ABS unemployment data is ostensibly good news. The December 2018 rate fell by 0.1 per cent to five per cent. This sort of statistic tells us people should be popping champagne corks. But ask anyone who is working or looking for work and you’ll hear a different story. How we measure and talk about unemployment matters to the health of our nation’s economy and the millions of Australians who want a job or wish to work more hours or need pay rise. Yet many of our politicians, media pundits and the public remain fixated on pure unemployment data. Yet the idea that unemployment is five per cent and employment is equal to one hour’s work is laughable.

The basis of any definition of employment should be the ability of a citizen and her or his dependants to earn a ‘living wage’, a version of the famous Harvester judgement crafted for the precariat age. Our job statistics are broken. It’s time to #changethestats.

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2019
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