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4102.0 - Australian Social Trends, 2003  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 03/06/2003   
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Contents >> Work >> Underutilised labour: Multiple spells of looking for work

Underutilised labour: Multiple spells of looking for work

In 2001, 5% of people aged 15–69 years who had been in the labour force for some or all of the previous year had experienced at least two spells of looking for work during that year.

While some people experience ongoing periods of paid work, others move between employment, unemployment and being out of the labour force. The inability to secure continuous employment over a long period of time may restrict a person's capacity to undertake and fulfil long-term financial and other commitments such as repaying a mortgage or raising children. It may also limit their development of work experience, skills, knowledge and social networks. However, not all movement between employment and being out of work is necessarily involuntary. People leave employment for a variety of reasons, such as retrenchment, unsatisfactory work conditions, to care for a child, to study, or for financial benefit (e.g. to get a better paying job). Furthermore, a succession of short-term jobs may suit the life stage, or career path of some people.

This article focuses on people who had at least two spells looking for paid work, interspersed with periods of employment or being out of the labour force, over a 12-month period. It does not include people who looked for another job while employed, or who moved directly from one business or employer to another (for more information about this group, see Australian Social Trends 2001, Changing employer or business).


Employment, unemployment and spells of looking for work
Data in this article are from the ABS Labour Force Experience Survey most recently conducted in February 2001. The Labour Force Experience Survey was first conducted in 1969, and has been conducted on a biennial basis since February 1996. The scope of the survey is limited to the civilian population aged 15-69 years.

Unemployed persons are those aged 15 years and over who were not employed during the survey reference week, but were available for work and were actively looking for work.

Employed people are those aged 15 years and over who, during the reference week, worked for one hour or more for pay, profit, commission, payment in kind in a job or business or on a farm, or worked without pay in a family business, or who had a job but were not at work.

The labour force consists of persons who were employed or unemployed during the survey reference week.

The unemployment rate, for any group, is the number of unemployed persons expressed as a percentage of the labour force in the same group.

Number of spells of looking for work during the previous 12 months is the number of different periods, including the current period, during which a person was not working and was looking for a job, i.e. unemployed. People who have experienced two or more spells have spent at least two separate periods looking for work while not working during the previous 12 months interspersed by at least one period of employment, or being out of the labour force.


Spells of looking for work
In the year to February 2001, 12% of people aged 15-69 years who had been in the labour force for some or all of the 12-month period experienced one spell of looking for work, and a further 5% experienced two or more spells. Over the 12 months to June 2001, the unemployment rate averaged around 6%. The unemployment rate refers only to people who are unemployed at a point in time (i.e. in the given survey reference week), while the proportion of people who had at least one spell of looking for work refers to their experiences over a 12-month period. However, while they relate to quite different lengths of time (and hence have quite different levels), between 1991 and 2001, movement in the unemployment rate and in numbers of people who had experienced one spell of looking for work were similar. Both rates increased from 1991 with the unemployment rate reaching 11% in December 1992, and the proportion of people who had one spell of looking for work reaching 17% in March 1993. Since then, both rates have generally declined. However, the proportion of people who had experienced two or more spells was relatively stable over this period at around 5%, despite the decreasing unemployment rate.

PERSONS AGED 15-69 YEARS: SPELLS OF LOOKING FOR WORK AND UNEMPLOYMENT RATE
Graph - Persons aged 15-69 years: spells of looking for work and unemployment rate

(a) As a proportion of those who had been in the labour force for some or all of the 12 months ending March until 1994, and the 12 months ending February thereafter. Data points for 1996, 1998 and 2000 have been estimated.
(b) Seasonally adjusted annual average ending 30 June.

Source: Labour Force Experience, Australia (ABS cat. no. 6206.0) and Labour Force, Australia (ABS cat. no. 6203.0).


Of the 1,730,600 people aged 15-69 years who experienced at least one spell of looking for work during the 12 months to February 2001, the majority had one spell of looking for work (72%). Smaller proportions had two spells (11%), three spells (6%), and four or more spells (11%). Between 1991 and 2001, the proportion who had one spell of looking for work declined by 8 percentage points while those who experienced two and three spells increased by 2 and 1 percentage points respectively. The proportion of people who experienced four or more spells almost doubled (an increase from 6% to 11%).

PERSONS(a) WHO LOOKED FOR WORK OVER THE PAST YEAR(b): NUMBER OF SPELLS OF LOOKING FOR WORK
Number of spells
1991
1993
1995
1997
1999
2001

%
%
%
%
%
%
One
80.0
77.0
74.0
74.6
74.7
72.2
Two
9.6
9.4
11.2
11.3
10.8
11.2
Three
4.5
4.9
5.6
5.4
5.3
5.9
Four or more
5.8
8.7
9.2
8.7
9.1
10.6

Total
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0

'000
'000
'000
'000
'000
'000

Total
1,748.7
2,110.1
1,968.4
1,926.5
1,777.5
1,730.6

a) Aged 15-69 years who had been in the labour force for some or all of the previous 12 months.
(b) Year ending March until 1993, and the year ending February thereafter.

Source: Labour Force Experience, Australia (ABS cat. no. 6206.0).

PERSONS(a) WHO HAD TWO OR MORE SPELLS OF LOOKING FOR WORK(b): TIME SPENT IN THE LABOUR FORCE(b) - 2001
Weeks in the labour force
Proportion of people

%
1 to under 4
1.7
4 to under 13
9.3
13 to under 26
7.1
26 to under 39
13.1
39 to under 52
20.4
52
48.5

Total
100.0

'000

Total
480.8

a) Aged 15-69 years who had been in the labour force for some or all of the previous 12 months.
(b) During the 12 months to February 2001.

Source: ABS 2001 Labour Force Experience Survey.


Multiple spells of looking for work
During the 12 months to February 2001, 480,800 people experienced two or more spells of looking for paid work, interspersed with periods of employment or being out of the labour force. While all of these people spent some time in the labour force, almost one in five (18%) were in the labour force for less than half the year, and just over half (52%) spent some time out of the labour force. Among those who experienced two or more spells of looking for work, proportionately more women than men spent at least half of the year out of the labour force (27% and 12% respectively). In keeping with this, women were generally more likely than men to have been out of the labour force at some time (66% and 41% respectively).

PERSONS AGED 15-69 YEARS(a) WHO HAD TWO OR MORE SPELLS OF LOOKING FOR WORK(b): FULL-TIME AND PART-TIME STATUS OF EMPLOYMENT(b) - 2001



Males

Females

Persons





%

%

%

Worked at some time

86.9

68.3

79.0


Time worked was all full-time

38.0

14.8

28.1


Time worked was more full-time than part-time

17.7

8.8

13.9


Time worked full-time was same as time worked part-time

*1.1

*0.5

*0.8


Time worked was more part-time than full-time

8.9

8.3

8.6


Time worked was all part-time

21.3

35.9

27.5

Did not work at any time

13.1

31.7

21.0







Total

100.0

100.0

100.0





'000

'000

'000








Total

276.3

204.6

480.8


(a) Who were in the labour force at some stage in the 12 months to February 2001.
(b) During the 12 months to February 2001.

Source: ABS 2001 Labour Force Experience Survey.


Among people who had multiple spells of looking for work, 21% found no employment during the 12 months to February 2001. Proportionately more women than men experienced this with 32% of women remaining unemployed or out of the labour force over the entire period, compared with 13% of men.

However, 79% of people who had multiple spells of looking for work in the 12 months to February 2001 were employed at some stage during the year. Just over one-third (34%) had one employer, and 46% had two or more employers. The full-time and part-time status of these jobs differed between men and women. Men were more likely than women to have gained work in jobs that were all full-time (38% compared with 15%), while women were more likely than men to have been employed in jobs that were all part-time (36% and 21% respectively).

Despite these differences, men and women were equally likely overall to have experienced multiple spells of looking for work during the 12 months to February 2001 (5% and 4% respectively). However, there were notable differences between people in different age groups. Younger people were more likely than older people to have experienced multiple spells, with the highest proportions being among people aged 15-19 years (8%), and those aged 20-24 years (6%). This partly reflects the higher proportion of 15-24 year olds who take short-term employment while studying, and who tend to experience a variety of jobs before settling on a career path (see Australian Social Trends 2001, Changing employer or business). Many of these jobs tend to be casual (i.e. without leave entitlements), require relatively low skill levels, and do not require previous work experience. The likelihood of having experienced multiple spells of looking for work was progressively lower among older age groups, and was lowest among men and women aged 55-69 years (3% and 2% respectively). This is in keeping with the lower mobility of older workers compared with younger workers.

The propensity to experience multiple spells of looking for work also varied according to a person's living arrangements. Partnered people were less likely to have experienced multiple spells of looking for work during the 12 months to February 2001 (3%) than people without partners. This partly relates to people of workforce age with partners generally being in older age groups than those without partners. In comparison, the likelihood of having had multiple spells of looking for work was highest among lone parents (10%). This may reflect the greater difficulties faced by single parents when balancing work around family responsibilities. Lone parents have a greater tendency to be employed in jobs that are lower skilled, and in jobs that do not provide leave entitlements.

PERSONS AGED 15-69 YEARS(a): PROPORTION WHO HAD TWO OR MORE SPELLS OF LOOKING FOR WORK(b) - 2001
%

Age group (years)
15-19
8.3
20-24
6.4
25-34
4.9
35-44
3.7
45-54
3.7
55-69
2.6
Relationship in household
Partner in a couple with dependants(c)
3.2
Partner in a couple without dependants(c)
2.9
Lone parent with dependants(c)
9.9
People without a partner or dependants(c)
6.4

Total
4.6

(a) Who were in the labour force at some stage in the 12 months to February 2001.
(b) During the 12 months to February 2001.
(c) Children under 15 years of age or aged 15-24 years who are full-time students (except those who have a partner or child of their own usually resident in the household).

Source: ABS 2001 Labour Force Experience Survey.


...job characteristics
The likelihood of people experiencing multiple spells of work also varies according to the type of work they are employed in. This is partly because certain types of jobs are more likely than others to be associated with mobility within the labour force, or with movement in and out of the labour force. In particular, those jobs which are seasonal, casual or which do not require previous experience or extensive training are more likely to be offered by employers on a short-term basis, or to be taken up by people looking for short-term employment. Many of these jobs also have lower skill requirements than those offered on a longer-term basis.

Half of all people aged 15-69 years who experienced multiple spells of looking for work were employed at February 2001. Of these 242,800 people, part-time workers were more likely than full-time workers to have experienced multiple spells of looking for work during the previous 12 months (5% and 2% respectively). Men working in part-time jobs were more likely to experience multiple spells of looking for work than men in full-time jobs (8% and 2% respectively), or women in part-time or full-time jobs (3% and 1% respectively). This may be because on average men who work part-time tend to be younger than women who work part-time. They are also more likely to be employed on a casual basis. In August 2001, 80% of men who were an employee in their main job were not entitled to paid holiday or sick leave in that job compared with 58% of women.1

FULL-TIME/PART-TIME STATUS(a) OF PERSONS(b) WHO HAD TWO OR MORE SPELLS OF LOOKING FOR WORK(c) - 2001

Graph - Full-time/part-time status(a) of persons(b) who had two or more spells of looking for work(c) - 2001

(a) Main job of employment at February 2001.
(b) Aged 15-69 years.
(c) During the 12 months to February 2001.

Source: ABS 2001 Labour Force Experience Survey.


With the exception of Manufacturing, people employed in industries where comparatively high proportions of employees did not have leave entitlements were more likely to have experienced multiple spells of looking for work during the 12 months to February 2001. Many of these industries employ younger casual workers, or have a seasonal aspect to them. People employed in Construction, Cultural and recreational services, Property and business services, and Accommodation, cafes and restaurants were most likely to have experienced multiple spells of looking for work (each over 3%). These industry groups also contained 29% or more of employees without leave entitlements. On the other hand, people working in Electricity, gas and water supply, Government administration and defence, Finance and insurance, and Communication service industries were least likely to have had multiple spells of looking for work (each less than 2%). These industries had relatively low proportions of employees without leave entitlements (each less than 16%), and also comparatively high proportions of people working in occupational groups such as Managers and administrators, and Professionals.

PROPORTION OF PERSONS(a) WHO HAD TWO OR MORE SPELLS OF LOOKING FOR WORK AND PROPORTION OF EMPLOYEES WITHOUT LEAVE ENTITLEMENTS BY INDUSTRY(b) - 2001
Proportion experiencing two or more spells(c)
Proportion without leave entitlements(d)
Industry
%
%

Construction
5.1
32.6
Cultural and recreational services
3.9
42.0
Property and business services
3.7
29.8
Accommodation, cafes and restaurants
3.7
55.2
Agriculture, forestry and fishing
3.1
54.2
Retail trade
2.9
44.9
Manufacturing
2.6
13.9
Transport and storage
2.5
23.2
Personal and other services
2.2
22.1
Wholesale trade
2.0
18.7
Mining
*1.9
12.6
Health and community services
1.7
22.5
Education
1.6
18.2
Communication services
*1.4
15.3
Finance and insurance
*1.3
13.3
Government administration and defence
*1.2
9.9
Electricity, gas and water supply
**0.9
11.0

(a) Aged 15-69 years.
(b) Main job of employment at February 2001.
(c) During the 12 months to February 2001.
(d) Data relate to employees at August 2001.

Source: ABS 2001 Labour Force Experience Survey and Employee Earnings, Benefits and Trade Union Membership, Australia, August 2001 (ABS cat. no. 6310.0).


The likelihood of having had multiple spells of looking for work also varied according to the occupational group in which people were employed at February 2001. People employed in occupational groups with higher skill levels tended to be less likely to have had multiple spells of looking for work. In February 2001, those employed as Managers and administrators, Associate professionals, and Advanced clerical, sales and service workers were the least likely of all occupation groups to have experienced multiple spells of looking for work in the previous 12 months (each less than 2%). For Managers and administrators, this may partly reflect the higher proportion of older workers employed in this occupational group, consistent with the length of time or training often needed to reach these positions.2 People in occupational groups with lower skill requirements such as Labourers and related workers (6%), Intermediate production and transport workers (4%), and Elementary clerical, sales and service workers (3%) were among the most likely to have had multiple spells of looking for work. A high proportion of younger people tend to be employed as Labourers and related workers, and Elementary clerical, sales and service workers. Proportionately more men than women are employed as Labourers and related workers, and Intermediate production and transport workers, and more women are employed as Elementary clerical, sales and service workers.

PROPORTION OF PERSONS(a) WHO HAD TWO OR MORE SPELLS OF LOOKING FOR WORK(b) BY OCCUPATION(c) - 2001
Major group (of occupation) (Skill level(d))
%

Managers and administrators (1)
*0.5
Professionals (1)
1.8
Associate professionals (2)
1.2
Tradespersons and related workers (3)
3.7
Advanced clerical and service workers (3)
1.2
Intermediate clerical, sales and service workers (4)
2.7
Intermediate production and transport workers (4)
3.8
Elementary clerical, sales and service workers (5)
3.4
Labourers and related workers (5)
5.6

(a) Aged 15-69 years.
(b) During the 12 months to February.
(c) Main job of employment at February 2001.
(d) Occupations are based on the ASCO - Australian Standard Classification of Occupations, Second Edition (ABS cat. no. 1220.0), which classifies occupations by skill level ranked from 1 (the highest) to 5 (the lowest).

Source: ABS 2001 Labour Force Experience Survey.


Endnotes
1 Australian Bureau of Statistics 2002, Employee Earnings, Benefits and Trade Union Membership, Australia, 2001, cat. no. 6310.0, ABS, Canberra.
2 Norris, K. and McLean, B. 2000, 'How long do jobs last in Australia?', Australian Bulletin of Labour, Vol. 26, No. 2, pp. 97-106.

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