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6105.0 - Australian Labour Market Statistics, Jan 2009  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 16/01/2009   
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JOBLESS FAMILIES


INTRODUCTION

Children living in jobless families or without an employed parent may be considered to be disadvantaged or potentially disadvantaged. Depending on individual circumstances, children living without employed parents or guardians may be at higher risk of financial hardship, and may be without role models of employment to follow. However, there may be positive effects for children living without an employed parent, for example, if the reason the parent is without a job is to care for children or to undertake study to try to improve the economic well-being of the household later on.

This article presents an analysis of jobless families in Australia, using improved estimates recently made available from the monthly Labour Force Survey (LFS).


SOURCE

Various measures of jobless families can be derived from the data in Labour Force, Australia: Labour Force Status and Other Characteristics of Families (cat. no. 6224.0.55.001). The LFS is a monthly household survey with a sample of approximately 22,800 households in 2008-2009. Although the survey is primarily designed to collect employment and unemployment data, other information collected in the survey allows the production of family estimates.

In October 2008, family estimates for the period August 2004 to September 2008 were revised, using an improved methodology, and the frequency of publication was increased from annual to monthly. These estimates of types of families, accompanied by employment information for adult family members, are available at both the Australia and state/territory level for each month from August 2004 onwards. For more information on the new methodology, see Improvements to Family Estimates from the Labour Force Survey, Australia 2008 (cat. no. 6224.0.55.002). The analysis in this article is based on estimates derived using the improved methodology.


CONCEPTS

Children

In considering children in jobless families, there are two definitions of children which can be used: namely, children under 15 years; or dependent children. Dependent children is the broader concept, comprising children under 15 years and children aged 15-24 years who are studying full time. Older dependent children (those aged 15-24 years) are more likely than children under 15 years to have access to other sources of income, such as part-time work or government benefits, rather than being reliant solely on their parents for financial support. For this reason there is an argument for excluding them from analysis if the focus is on risk of financial hardship. The analysis in this article is of jobless families with children under 15 years, as the group most at risk.


Families & Parents

The LFS provides two choices of unit that can be used to measure the employment participation of people who live with children: the parent/s who reside with a child; or the family of a child, including other related persons 15 years or older who usually reside with the parent/s and the child. This article primarily focusses on parent/s, as the labour force status of the parent/s is likely to have more influence on a child than the labour force status of other adults in the family.


Joblessness

Unemployment and non-employment are the two main measures in analysing joblessness. In ABS surveys, unemployed persons are those aged 15 years and over who were not employed during the reference week, had actively looked for work at any time in the four weeks up to the reference week, and were available for work in the reference week. Non-employment is a broader measure. As well as those who are unemployed, it also includes those who were not employed and did not meet the criteria to be unemployed (and may not even want a job). These people are classed as not in the labour force and this group can include retired people and people primarily caring for children or other family members at home.


Jobless families

There are three possible measures of jobless families:

  • Parent/s unemployed (the parent/s have a labour force status of unemployed);
  • Parent/s not employed (the parent/s have a labour force status of unemployed and/or not in the labour force); and
  • No family member employed (no adult family member is employed).

The second measure 'parent/s are not employed' is the preferred ABS measure and is the one used in this analysis. This measure includes couple families where both parents are either unemployed or not in the labour force and lone parent families where the sole parent is unemployed or not in the labour force. This measure therefore includes families where the parent/s have chosen not to work, are not actively seeking work, are not available to start work or are unable to work. In contrast, the first measure, 'parent/s unemployed' excludes these families and so understates the number of families which may be of interest.

The third measure 'no family member employed' uses the labour force status of all members of the family, including non parent adults, such as grandparents and adult siblings. While there may be value in measuring families where the children have no role model of an employed person in the family, it is the labour force status of the parent/s that is likely to have more influence on a child than the labour force status of other adults in the family.

It is important to note that the family estimates from the LFS include families where one or both parents have an unknown labour force status. These parents are outside of the scope of the LFS and so employment information is not collected about them, but as other information about them is known (such as their age, sex and relationship to others in the household), they are included in LFS family estimates. These people have either a labour force status of 'Not determined, defence force personnel' for permanent members of the Australian defence forces or 'Not determined, other' for all others with an unknown labour force status. For the purposes of this article, permanent members of the Australian defence forces are treated as employed. It is not known if people with a labour force status of 'not determined, other' are employed or not and so these families are excluded from this analysis of jobless families.


NUMBER OF JOBLESS FAMILIES

The two tables below show the three measures of jobless families for November 2008. The data are available both as estimates of the number of families (with children under 15 years) and of the number of children aged 0 to 14 years.

1. Families with children under 15 years(a)

Lone parent families
Couple families
Total families
'000
%
'000
%
'000
%

Total (all families)
459.5
. .
1 797.8
. .
2 257.3
. .
Measures of jobless families
Parent/s unemployed
30.8
6.7
*4.6
*0.3
35.4
1.6
Parent/s not employed
203.7
44.3
74.8
4.2
278.5
12.3
No family member employed
182.6
39.7
62.5
3.5
245.1
10.9

* estimate is subject to sampling variability too high for most practical purposes
. . not applicable
(a) Excludes families with employment status unknown.


Regardless of which measure of jobless families is used, there are considerably more jobless lone parent families than couple families, both in number and as a proportion of all families. Using the measure 'parent/s not employed', 12% of all families with children under 15 years are jobless, while 44% of lone parent families and only 4% of couple families are jobless. Furthermore, although there are more couple families (1,797,800) in Australia than lone parent families (459,500), there are more jobless lone parent families (203,700) than jobless couple families (74,800).

2. Children aged 0 - 14 living in families(a)

Lone parent families
Couple families
Total families
'000
%
'000
%
'000
%

Total (all children)
742.4
. .
3 252.1
. .
3 994.5
. .
Measures of jobless families
Parent/s unemployed
45.7
6.2
6.9
0.2
52.6
1.3
Parent/s not employed
358.5
48.3
143.9
4.4
502.4
12.6
No family member employed
327.0
44.0
127.5
3.9
454.5
11.4

. . not applicable
(a) Excludes families with employment status unknown.


The count of children in jobless families is naturally higher than the count of families, as many families contain more than one child. The proportion of children in jobless families is similar to the proportion of jobless families with 13% of children living in jobless families. Almost half (48%) of all children under 15 years in lone parent families live with a parent who is not employed.


JOBLESS FAMILIES OVER TIME

Over the 4 years for which the improved LFS family estimates are available, the proportion of families who were jobless has decreased. During the same period, the unemployment rate for the civilian population of Australia also decreased from 5.4% to 4.3% (trend) (Labour Force, Australia cat. no. 6202.0.55.001). Jobless families accounted for 16% of all families in August 2004 and by August 2008 this had dropped to 12%. In early 2008 and at the beginning of each calendar year there is an increase in the number of jobless families. This correlates to an increase in employed persons in December and a decrease in employed persons in January/February each year (Labour Force, Australia cat. no. 6202.0.55.001).

3. Jobless families as a proportion of all families with children under 15 years
Graph: 3.  jobless families as a proportion of all families with children under 15 years



COMPOSITION OF JOBLESS FAMILIES

Family type

Lone parent families account for almost three-quarters (73%) of all jobless families. In the majority (85%) of lone parent jobless families, the parent is not in the labour force rather than unemployed. Not in the labour force includes those parents who did not actively seek work or were not available for work as well as those who have chosen not to work, possibly because they are caring for child/ren. Parents who are not looking for work account for 90% of all jobless lone parent families where the parent is not in the labour force. Parents who are not looking for work include those without intention to work as they are caring for child/ren or others in the family or engaged in study.

Couple families may also have a parent choosing not to work to care for children but if the other parent is employed it is not a jobless family. For a couple family to be jobless, both parents need to be not employed. The lower rates of jobless couple families may reflect the greater flexibility in employment options for a family with two parents.


Family size

The chart below shows the distribution of jobless families and of all families by the number of children in the family. Families with one child under 15 years account for the largest share of all families (46%) and jobless families (50%). Jobless families have a higher proportion of families with only one child under 15 years and a lower proportion of families with two children.

4. Proportion of families by number of children under 15 years
Graph: 4.  Proportion of families by number of children under 15 years



Age of youngest child

The chart below shows the distribution of jobless families, and of all families, by the age of youngest child. The proportion of jobless families where the youngest child is under 5 years is higher than the proportion for all families, with over half (52%) the jobless families having at least one child under five years, compared to 46% of all families. This difference is even more apparent for lone parent families where families with the youngest child under 5 years account for 52% of jobless families and 35% of all families. This suggests that the presence of one or more young children may be a common reason for families, and, in particular lone parent families, to be jobless. Families where the youngest child is older (aged ten to fourteen) are less common, accounting for 27% of all families and 23% of jobless families.

5. Proportion of families by age of youngest child
Graph: 5.  proportion of families by age of youngest child



Age of parent/s

The chart below shows the distribution of lone parent families with children under 15 years by the age of the parent. The age distribution of jobless lone parents is generally younger than the distribution of all lone parents. For all families and jobless families with children under 15 years there are relatively few parents aged 60 and over. Jobless lone parent families account for a higher proportion of families with younger parents (aged 15 to 34) than all lone parent families.

6. Proportion of lone parent families by age of the parent
Graph: 6.  Proportion of lone parent families by age of the parent


A similar trend appears in the chart below which shows the distribution of couple families by the average age of both parents. Jobless couple families are more common amongst younger parents with 41% of jobless families and 30% of all families having an average age of the parents less than 35 years. Also, families where the average age of the parents is 50 years or higher account for 6% of all families and 21% of jobless families. These jobless families include families where the parent/s have retired and so are not in the labour force.

7. Proportion of couple families by average age of the parents
Graph: 7.  Proportion of couple families by average age of the parents



FURTHER INFORMATION

For further information about family estimates from the LFS see Labour Force, Australia: Labour Force Status and Other Characteristics of Families (cat. no. 6224.0.55.001) or contact Carmel O'Regan on Canberra (02) 6252 6127 or email <carmel.oregan@abs.gov.au>.


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