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Working paper

Trends in social security receipt among Indigenous Australians: evidence from household surveys 1994–2015

Welfare recipients Aboriginal Australians economic conditions Rural and remote communities Welfare state Australia


This paper uses data from National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Surveys to examine trends in social security receipt among the Indigenous population between 1994 and 2014/15, as well as documenting the declining receipt of Community Development Employment Project (CDEP) wages.

In non-remote areas, social security receipt among Indigenous Australians fell between 1994 and 2008 for both men and women. During this period of buoyant labour market conditions, falls in receipt of social security and CDEP wages were offset by increases in the proportion of people with non-CDEP wages as their main source of income. From 2008 to 2014/15, the level of social security receipt in non-remote areas was not significantly changed.

The situation in remote areas is more complicated, as trends in social security receipt have been greatly influenced by the decline of the CDEP scheme. Overall, the proportion of Indigenous people in remote areas in receipt of either social security payments or CDEP wages was lower in 2014/15 than in 1994. However, the proportion receiving social security payments was similar in both years for women and significantly higher for men in 2014/15.

Trends in social security receipt and the decline of the CDEP scheme contributed to strong income growth between 2002 and 2008, and then stagnating or even falling average incomes between 2008 and 2014/15.

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CAEPR Working Paper 135/2020