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After the 1990-91 economic downturn, the unemployment rate remained at or near 10.7% in trend terms until October 1993. From late 1993 the rate declined steadily to stabilise around 8% from mid 1995 to the end of 1997. After falling relatively steadily to 6.1% in August 2000, by late 2001 the unemployment rate had risen to 6.9%. Since November 2001 the unemployment rate has been falling, to stand at 6.2% in August 2002.
Broadly, the official unemployment data provided by the Labour Force Survey defines the unemployed as
The employed, the unemployed and those not in the labour force are mutually exclusive measures of the population and its economic activity. The requirement that the employed work for one hour or more ensures that people looking for another job while employed are not wrongly included among the unemployed: that is, the unemployed are only measured among those without any work.
Unemployment estimates are an indicator of the degree of oversupply of labour. Changes in the level of oversupply can usefully be compared with changes in labour demand, expressed as employment plus job vacancies.
The unemployment rate is defined as the number of unemployed persons expressed as a percentage of the labour force (employed plus unemployed). This measure of labour under-utilisation is an important indicator of the performance of the economy. A high rate of unemployment indicates limited employment opportunities in an over-supplied labour market. A low rate of unemployment indicates a tight labour market, potential scarcity of skilled labour and possible future cost pressures from wage demands by workers.
The labour force participation rate is the labour force expressed as a percentage of the civilian population aged 15 years and over. It measures the proportion of the population who form the labour supply. The participation rate is an aid to monitoring changes in the size and composition of the labour supply.
Although turning points in the unemployment level, unemployment rate and participation rate series lag turning points in general economic activity, trends in these series over time serve as indicators of the performance of the economy at large. The personal characteristics of the unemployed can also be used to identify areas of social concern.
While the unemployment level and rate are well understood as formal measures of the labour supply, no single measure of unemployment can satisfy all the purposes for which such data are required. The ABS uses other data from the Labour Force Survey and its regular supplementary survey programme to form annual measures of underemployment and marginal attachment. These help to shed more light on under-use of the actual and potential labour supply.
Labour Force, Australia, Preliminary (6202.0)
Monthly. Estimates of employment, unemployment, unemployment rate and labour force participation rate, classified by State and Territory, sex, age, school and tertiary attendance, full-time/part-time status. On the ABS web site, see Statistics - Employment and unemployment.
Also see the Labour Force Framework reading list.