Labour Force, Australia

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Headline estimates of employment, unemployment, underemployment, participation and hours worked from the monthly Labour Force Survey

Reference period
August 2021

Key statistics

Seasonally adjusted estimates for August 2021:

  • Unemployment rate decreased to 4.5%.
  • Participation rate decreased to 65.2%.
  • Employment decreased to 13,022,600.
  • Employment to population ratio decreased to 62.2%.
  • Underemployment rate increased to 9.3%.
  • Monthly hours worked decreased by 66 million hours.
Jul-2021Aug-2021Monthly changeMonthly change (%)Yearly changeYearly change (%)
Seasonally adjusted
Employed people13,168,90013,022,600-146,300-1.1%396,1003.1%
Unemployed people639,000617,100-21,900-3.4%-298,000-32.6%
Unemployment rate4.6%4.5%-0.1 ptsna-2.2 ptsna
Underemployment rate8.3%9.3%1.0 ptsna-2.0 ptsna
Participation rate66.0%65.2%-0.8 ptsna0.2 ptsna
Monthly hours worked in all jobs 1,780 million 1,714 million-66 million-3.7%27 million1.6%

Estimates of changes throughout this release are calculated using un-rounded level estimates and may be different from, but are more accurate than, movements obtained from the rounded level estimates.

Survey impacts and changes

Hours worked

The ABS will continue to publish insights into hours worked, given the lockdowns and restrictions across Australia. This analysis provides insights into changes in total hours worked and also people working reduced or no hours.

Given the extent of changes around lockdowns, the ABS has also included data cubes EM2a and EM2b in today’s release. These data cubes are usually only released in Labour Force, Australia, Detailed, but will also be released in the headline release over the coming months, to enable more detailed analysis of changes in hours worked and the reasons that people are working reduced or no hours. 

Quarterly rebenchmarking of labour force statistics

The ABS has revised the original Labour Force series from July 2019 to reflect the latest available preliminary and final estimates of the Estimated Resident Population. This quarterly process ensures that the Labour Force series promptly reflect any change in population trends and minimises the size of revisions that can occur when the series are rebenchmarked following each Census of Population and Housing.

In response to COVID-19 related changes in travel, the ABS has been revising preliminary Net Overseas Migration estimates more frequently. Net Overseas Migration estimates are a component of population estimates, from which Labour Force benchmarks are produced. These revisions have been incorporated into the quarterly rebenchmarking revisions. For more information, please refer to 'Net Overseas Migration revisions in Labour Force benchmarks during COVID-19'.

The usual resident civilian population in June 2021 was revised up by around 0.02% (around 5,200 people).

Revisions to original series also result in revisions to seasonally adjusted series.

Understanding how COVID-19 support is reflected in Labour Force statistics

Over the course of the pandemic there has been a range of support provided by governments to people and businesses. These support programs have changed over time, which is important to consider when assessing changes in Labour Force statistics through the COVID period, including the extent to which people have lost their jobs or have reduced (or no) hours of work but remain employed. 

The current main government support payments are paid directly to people (including the COVID-19 Disaster Relief Payment and JobSeeker Payment) or directly to businesses (including the JobSaver Payment, which, unlike the JobKeeper wage subsidy, is not paid to businesses with an explicit payroll connection to specific employees). 

The ABS continues to categorise people as ‘employed’ or ‘not employed’ in the survey using the long-standing concepts and practices used in Labour Force statistics, and are not impacted or determined by whether a person or employing business is eligible or in receipt of government support.

The Labour Force Survey questionnaire, which has not changed during the COVID period, starts with two key questions that identify whether the respondents were employed:

  • Did you do any work at all in a job, business or farm last week?
  • Did you have a job, business or farm that you were away from because of holidays, sickness or any other reasons?

Anyone who indicates that they DID paid work will be considered ‘employed’.

If they DIDN’T do any paid work (paid by their employer or business), the second question will then ascertain whether they still had a job but didn’t do any work because they were temporarily away from work.

Anyone who indicates that they DIDN’T have a job (that they were absent from) will be categorised as ‘not employed’ and either ‘unemployed’ or ‘not in the labour force’, depending on their responses to other questions. People can be ‘unemployed’ or ‘not in the labour force’ while receiving the COVID-19 Disaster Payment or the JobSeeker Payment. To be categorised as ‘unemployed’ people must have not worked, be looking for work and available to start work. 

Whereas, anyone who indicates that they DID have a job (that they were absent from) will be considered ‘employed’ if they were away from work for less than 4 weeks, or paid by their employer for any part of the last four weeks. These are key factors in determining whether someone is employed, particularly during lockdown periods.

Over the pandemic, falls in employment during lockdown periods have tended to increase as lockdowns have extended beyond 4 weeks. At that point, people who were temporarily absent from work and not paid by their employer for any part of the last four weeks are no longer considered to be ‘employed’ and will instead be either ‘unemployed’ or ‘not in the labour force’, depending on their responses to other questions. This is regardless of whether they still have an attachment to their job. It is also important to note that during lockdowns many people leaving employment will also leave the labour force entirely, given the challenges in actively look for work and being available for work.

Improving the estimation of short-term non-residents in the Labour Account

Over the COVID period, there have been large reductions in short-term non-resident arrivals in Australia. These reductions are not reflected in Labour Force Survey employment estimates but are accounted for in Labour Account estimates of employment and jobs. Differences between the Labour Force Survey and Labour Account were outlined in the June 2021 Labour Force release.

Modelling employed short-term non-residents in the Labour Account

As noted in the March quarter Labour Account release, a model-based approach is needed to estimate the number of short-term/temporary non-residents who are employed (including the jobs they held, and the hours they worked) as there are no direct sources for this information.

Improvements to the model and revisions in the September quarter release

The ABS has reviewed the modelling approach used in the Labour Account and has identified some improved data sources and method enhancements. These will provide a more robust estimation of the number of short-term non-residents who are working, and the hours they worked.

The new model will be implemented into the Labour Account for the September quarter 2021, with revisions to quarterly and annual Labour Account series across all quadrants (i.e. People, Jobs, Hours and Payments).

These revisions will result in a reduction of the number (and hours worked) of employed short-term non-residents in the Labour Account.

An indication of the magnitude of the reduction will be provided in the October issue of Labour Force, Australia, to be released on 11 November 2021, with the revised estimates to be published in the September quarter issue of Labour Account Australia, on 8 December 2021.

Seasonal adjustment and trend estimates

In the April 2020 Labour Force release, the ABS advised that the method used to produce seasonally adjusted estimates would be changed from the ‘concurrent’ method to the ‘forward factors’ method, during the COVID-19 period. The forward factors approach is better suited to managing large movements at the end point of series and ensures that large movements do not have a disproportionate influence on the seasonal factors.

Given the large movements in the labour market during the COVID-19 period and the continuing use of a forward factors approach to seasonal adjustment, the ABS undertook an extensive annual review of its seasonally adjusted Labour Force series, prior to the release of April 2021 estimates.

Through this process static forward factors have been calculated for the next 12 months taking effect from the April 2021 release (and the release of May 2021 Labour Force, for the quarterly series).

Survey response and timeline

The August Labour Force Survey was run in respect of the two weeks from Sunday 1 August to Saturday 14 August, and collected over the period from Sunday 8 August to Saturday 28 August.

The ABS would like to thank Australians for their continued support in responding to our surveys during such a difficult time, given how critically important this information is.

Reference and Enumeration Dates
PublicationStart of Reference WeekEnd of Reference WeekStart of EmunerationEnd of Enumeration
June 202130th May 202112th June 20216th June 202126th June 2021
July 20214th July 202117th July 202111th July 202131st July 2021
August 20211st August 202114th August 20218th August 202128th August 2021
September 202129th August 202111th September 20215th September 202125th September 2021
October 202126th September 20219th October 20213th October 202123th October 2021

October 2021 Labour Force statistics will be released on 11 November

In Census years, the collection and reference weeks of the Labour Force Survey may be brought forward slightly to minimise the overlap with the Post Census Review (also referred to as the Census Post Enumeration Survey). The October 2021 survey will start enumeration on Sunday 3 October, slightly earlier than the Sunday between the 5th and 11th, as stated in the Methodology.

As a result, October 2021 Labour Force statistics will also be released a week earlier than originally advertised, on 11 November, rather than 18 November.

Articles and other information

This months Labour Force release includes:

For a list of previously published LFS articles, see the Article archive.

Additional spreadsheets and pivot tables are published in Labour Force, Australia, Detailed one week after this release, while longitudinal labour force microdata are released in the ABS DataLab, one day after the detailed release (see Microdata: Longitudinal Labour Force, Australia).


In seasonally adjusted terms, in August 2021:

  • The unemployment rate decreased by 0.1 pts to 4.5%
  • The unemployment rate was 0.7 pts lower than March 2020
  • Unemployed people decreased by 21,900 to 617,100 
  • Unemployed people was 106,100 lower than March 2020
  • The youth unemployment rate up 0.5 pts to 10.7%
  • The youth unemployment rate was 0.9 pts lower than March 2020


In seasonally adjusted terms, in August 2021:

  • Employment decreased by 146,300 people (1.1%) to 13,022,600 people
  • Employment was 27,100 people (0.2%) higher than March 2020


Flows into and out of employment

Flows into and out of employment are extensive and are based on the net matched sample of original employment growth between two consecutive months (around 80% of the sample). The (net) sum of the inflows and outflows does not necessarily equal the 'net' employment growth.

For August 2021 the net decrease in the number of employed people is the result of around 460,000 people entered employment (i.e. they were not employed in July but were employed in August), while around 650,000 people left employment (i.e. they were employed in July but were not employed in August). This contrasts with July 2021 where around 550,000 people entered employment and around 500,000 people left employment.

Note: As the inflows and outflows analysis is based on the matched sample (around 80% of the sample), and the original employment growth is based on the entire sample and the latest months weight, the (net) sum of the inflows and outflows does not necessarily equal the 'net' employment growth.

The following diagram shows the proportion of people moving between employment, unemployment and not in the labour force between July and August (based on the matched sample). It shows that:

  • 95% of people employed in July were also employed in August (with 1% moving to unemployment and 4% to not in the labour force)
  • 53% of people unemployed in July were also unemployed in August (with 19% moving to employment and 28% to not in the labour force)
  • 93% of people not in the labour force in July were also not in the labour force in August (with 5% moving to employment and 2% to unemployment)

Flows in labour force status, July to August

Gross flow diagram, July to August 2021

Full-time and part-time employment

In seasonally adjusted terms, in August 2021:

  • Full-time employment decreased by 68,000 to 8,956,500 people, and part-time employment decreased by 78,200 to 4,066,100 people
  • The part-time share of employment was 31.2%, 0.5 pts lower than in March 2020


Employment-to-population ratio

In seasonally adjusted terms, in August 2021, the employment-to-population ratio:

  • Decreased by 0.7 pts to 62.2%
  • Lower than March 2020 by 0.1 pts.

The employment-to-population ratio provides a measure of employment relative to the size of the population.

Hours worked

In seasonally adjusted terms, in August 2021, monthly hours worked in all jobs:

  • ​​​​​Decreased by 66.0 million hours (3.7%) to 1,714 million hours
  • Decreased by 51.0 million hours (2.9%) from March 2020 

See the article Insights into hours worked for more.


In seasonally adjusted terms, in August 2021, the participation rate:

  • Decreased by 0.8 pts to 65.2%

  • Decreased by 0.7 pts for men to 70.1% and decreased by 0.9 pts for women to 60.5%

  • Lower than March 2020 by 0.7 pts


In seasonally adjusted terms, in August 2021:

  • The underemployment rate increased by 1.0 pts to 9.3%
  • The underemployment rate was 0.5 pts higher than March 2020 
  • The underutilisation rate increased by 0.9 pts to 13.8%

States and territories

August 2021, Seasonally adjusted
New South WalesVictoriaQueenslandSouth AustraliaWestern AustraliaTasmaniaNorthern TerritoryAustralian Capital TerritoryAustralia
Employed people3,956,3003,489,3002,626,700874,1001,423,600262,200130,500233,30013,022,600
Employed people - monthly change-4.2%0.8%-1.1%-0.3%0.9%-0.2%0.4%-0.2%-1.1%
Employment to population ratio59.4%64.1%62.3%59.8%65.9%58.3%68.3%67.6%62.2%
Employment to population ratio - monthly change-2.6 pts0.6 pts-0.8 pts-0.2 pts0.5 pts-0.2 pts0.2 pts-0.2 pts-0.7 pts
Unemployment rate4.9%4.1%5.3%5.0%4.6%5.5%3.4%3.5%4.5%
Unemployment rate - monthly change0.4 pts-0.3 pts0.1 pts0.3 pts0.0 pts0.9 pts-1.1 pts-0.7 pts-0.1 pts
Underemployment rate10.2%9.1%8.4%8.0%6.9%8.4%6.7%7.1%9.3%
Underemployment rate - monthly change0.9 pts0.9 pts0.7 pts-0.4 pts0.0 pts0.2 pts0.9 pts0.7 pts1.0 pts
Participation rate62.4%66.9%65.9%62.9%69.0%61.7%70.7%70.1%65.2%
Participation rate - monthly change-2.5 pts0.3 pts-0.7 pts0.0 pts0.5 pts0.4 pts-0.6 pts-0.7 pts-0.8 pts

Rotation group analysis

Sample composition and rotation

The Labour Force Survey sample can be thought of as comprising eight sub-samples (rotation groups), with each sub-sample remaining in the survey for eight months, and one group "rotating out" each month and being replaced by a new group "rotating in". As seven-eighths of the sample are common from one month to the next, changes in the estimates reflect real changes in the labour market, rather than changes in the sample. The replacement sample is generally selected from the same geographic areas as the outgoing one, as part of a representative sampling approach.

The sample comprises three components:

  • the matched common sample (people who responded in both the current month and previous month)
  • the unmatched common sample (people who responded in the current month but who did not respond in the previous month, or vice versa)
  • the incoming rotation group (replacing people who rotated out)

The matched common sample describes the change observed for the same respondents in the current and previous month, while the other two components reflect differences between the aggregate labour force status of different groups of people.

While the rotation groups are designed to be representative of the population, the outgoing and incoming rotation groups will almost always have somewhat different characteristics, as they reflect different households and people. The design of the survey, including the weighting and estimation processes, ensures that these differences are generally relatively minor and do not affect the representativeness of the survey and its estimates. Monthly estimates are designed to be representative, regardless of the relative contribution of the three components of the sample.

The contributions of the three sample components to the original estimates of employed, unemployed and not in the labour force are in the Contribution from sample components to estimates spreadsheet.

Estimates for the incoming and outgoing rotation groups

Incoming and outgoing rotation groups
July outgoing rotation groupAugust incoming rotation groupAugust outgoing rotation groupAugust estimate (Original)
Employment to population ratio63.1%62.3%61.6%61.9%
Full-time employment to population ratio44.0%41.7%43.5%42.4%
Unemployment rate4.3%4.9%4.2%4.6%
Participation rate65.9%65.5%64.3%64.9%

States and territories

In addition to analysis across the entire sample, the ABS also undertakes similar analysis for the responding sample in each state and territory each month, and highlights where there is a notable change for users to be aware of. For example, in August 2021, the incoming rotation group in Queensland had a higher employment-to-population ratio, participation rate and population share than the group it replaced. As with any notable month-to-month movement of this nature in state and territory estimates, the ABS recommends exercising a degree of caution in interpreting short-term changes.

As for its reporting for the entire sample, where the ABS has not highlighted a notable incoming rotation group effect, any larger changes should therefore be considered to reflect a broader change across the sample.

Managing COVID-19 impacts on the incoming rotation groups

In response to COVID-19 and the suspension of face-to-face interviewing, the ABS boosted the size of sample for the incoming rotation groups from June to December 2020 to ensure response level were around the same as pre-COVID-19 rotation groups. This has ensured a comparable level of fully responding households to the pre-COVID period.

The rotation group introduced in December 2020 with a larger sample rotated out in August 2021,meaning that the sample size of all rotation groups in August 2021 was similar to the rotation groups of the pre-COVID period.

Given the current extent of lockdowns in South East Australia, the ABS will boost the size of the sample for the incoming rotation groups for at least September, October and November 2021.

Between April and September 2020 additional weighting treatments were used to effectively account for a slightly higher level of non-response. No such treatment has been required since September 2020, with the response patterns returning close to the pre-COVID period.

Comparability with seasonally adjusted data

The gross flows and rotation group data are in original terms only, and are included to provide additional information on the month-to-month movements. They have a considerable level of inherent sampling variability, which is specifically adjusted for in the seasonally adjusted series.

While trend data usually provides the best measure of the underlying behaviour of the labour market, in times of large changes in the labour market, seasonally adjusted data provides a better estimate of the most recent months. The ABS has temporarily suspended the trend series until labour market indicators become more stable, see Suspension of trend series and changes to seasonal adjustment during the COVID-19 period.

Contribution from sample components to estimates

Data downloads

Labour Force Survey results are released in three stages.

  1. Spreadsheets of the headline indicators are published in this release
  2. Additional, more detailed spreadsheets and pivot tables are published in Labour Force, Australia, Detailed one week after this first release
  3. Longitudinal labour force microdata are released in the ABS DataLab on a monthly basis, one day after the detailed release (see Microdata: Longitudinal Labour Force, Australia)

See the Survey output section of Labour Force, Australia methodology for more information.

Labour Force status

Data files

Hours worked

Data files

Underemployment and underutilisation

Data files

Flows into and out of employment

GM1 - Labour force status and Gross changes (flows) by Age, Sex, State and Territory, February 1991 onwards

All time series spreadsheets

All time series spreadsheets

Article archive

Previous catalogue number

This release previously used catalogue number 6202.0.

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