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Labour Force, Australia

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

Reference period
January 2021

Key statistics

Seasonally adjusted estimates for January 2021:

  • Unemployment rate decreased to 6.4%.
  • Participation rate decreased to 66.1%.
  • Employment increased to 12,939,900.
  • Employment to population ratio increased to 61.9%.
  • Underemployment rate decreased to 8.1%.
  • Monthly hours worked decreased by 86 million hours.
Dec-20Jan-21Monthly changeMonthly change (%)Yearly changeYearly change (%)
Seasonally adjusted
Employed people12,910,80012,939,90029,1000.2%-45,600-0.4%
Unemployed people912,000877,600-34,300-3.8%156,00021.6%
Unemployment rate6.6%6.4%-0.2 ptsna1.1 ptsna
Underemployment rate8.5%8.1%-0.4 ptsna-0.4 ptsna
Participation rate66.2%66.1%-0.1 ptsna0.1 ptsna
Monthly hours worked in all jobs 1,753 million 1,667 million-86 million-4.9%-100 million-5.7%

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

Managing the impact of COVID-19 on labour force statistics

The ABS is continuing to take active steps to manage the impacts of COVID-19 on Labour Force statistics. For more information on recent developments, refer to the Rotation group analysis.

Survey response and timeline

The January Labour Force Survey was run in respect of the two weeks from Sunday 3 January to Saturday 16 January, and collected over the period from Sunday 10 January to Saturday 30 January.

    LFS COVID timeline Jan 2021
    The following image provides a timeline of events from March 2020 to January 2021 showing LFS collection periods, headline results as well as COVID-related community and business changes and announcements.

    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.

    Continued suspension of trend estimates

    Given the extent of change in Labour Force time series, the ABS temporarily suspended trend series during the COVID period and moved to using forward factors for seasonal adjustment. All estimates within the commentary, including information for the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory, refer to seasonally adjusted data. For more information, please refer to 'Suspension of trend series and changes to seasonal adjustment during the COVID-19 period'.

    Seasonal Adjustment

    Since the April 2020 release, the ABS has been using forward seasonal factors to produce seasonally adjusted Labour Force estimates, rather than the usual concurrent adjustment approach. The forward factors approach is better suited to managing seasonal adjustment during a period of sustained disruption, as summarised in Methods changes during the COVID-19 period

    To support the continuing use of forward factors through the COVID period, the ABS will be undertaking an ‘Extraordinary Annual Series Review’ of Labour Force series, ahead of the release of April 2021 data (on 20 May 2021). The outcome of this process will be summarised in a future release.

    Treatment of people on JobKeeper, JobSeeker or stood down

    People paid through the JobKeeper wage subsidy, in receipt of JobSeeker payments, or stood down by their employer are classified as follows in the Labour Force Survey. This approach:

    • is consistent with the long-standing concepts and practices used in the Labour Force Survey; and
    • has not resulted in any changes to the Labour Force Survey questionnaire.

    The ABS will update this information if new scenarios emerge or the conditions of existing scenarios change over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.

    1. People paid through the JobKeeper wage subsidy: employed

    The ABS expects that people who are paid through the JobKeeper scheme will answer the questions in a way that results in them being classified as employed, regardless of the hours they work (e.g. even if they are stood down). People paid through JobKeeper may work less hours, the same hours, or more hours, than usual.

    Under the JobKeeper program, eligible businesses and not-for-profit organisations affected by COVID-19 can elect to receive a subsidy to support their employment of eligible employees. Some self-employed people are also eligible to receive the JobKeeper payment.

    Employers will pay these employees a wage, within their existing employment relationship, supporting an ongoing attachment to a job.

    2. People in receipt of the JobSeeker payment: it depends on their labour market activity

    People who receive the JobSeeker or other similar government payments are not automatically classified as unemployed (just as those classified as unemployed will not necessarily be in receipt of a government payment) and how they are categorised depends on how they answer questions around labour market activity.

    The JobSeeker payment is paid to people who are looking for work or are sick or injured and cannot undertake their usual work or study for a short time, and who meet the eligibility requirements. People can also receive the JobSeeker payment if they have a job, if they meet a low income test.

    Recent changes to the JobSeeker program related to COVID-19 also meant that some recipients did not have to meet the usual mutual obligation requirements, such as looking for work. As these obligations are reinstated, changes may lead to increases in active job search and an increase in the number of people classified as unemployed in future months.

    To be classified as unemployed in Labour Force statistics, a person must:

    • have actively looked for full-time or part-time work in the last four weeks; and
    • be available for work in the reference week.

    People who were waiting to start a new job within four weeks from the end of the reference week and could have started in the reference week if the job had been available then are also classified as unemployed.

    3. People not working any hours, including those who were stood down: it depends on their job attachment and pay, and potentially other labour market activity

    A person will be classified as employed if they:

    • had taken any kind of paid leave;
    • were away from their job for any reason (e.g. they were stood down), and were paid for some part of the previous 4 weeks (which could include wages subsidised through the JobKeeper scheme); or
    • were away from their job for four weeks or less for any reason, without pay, but believe they still have a job to go back to (e.g. they were stood down, with no pay).

    If a person is away from their job for four weeks or more without pay, or they believe they no longer have a job to be absent from, they will be classified as:

    • unemployed - if they have actively looked for work, and are available to start work; or
    • not in the labour force - if they have not looked for work and/or are not available to start work.

    There will be a range of ways in which people will have been stood down without work as a result of COVID-19. Some may be stood down with pay, some through paid leave (e.g. long service leave, annual leave, etc) and some without pay. Some people will perceive that they still have a job (but just no hours at the moment), while others will consider they have lost their job. 

    These differences are effectively captured using Labour Force Survey questions, which support the ABS to effectively categorise people and produce key measures of the labour market.

    People stood down without pay from late March through to early May 2020 were away from their job for four weeks or more and therefore were no longer considered employed in May. This explains part of the further fall in employment in May 2020.

    For further information, please email

    Articles and other information

    This months Labour Force release includes:

    • Additional analysis of hours worked - including comparisons of the original and seasonally adjusted series to help understand the seasonally adjusted movements in hours worked; and for people working less hours than usual (see Insights into hours worked)
    • A discussion of how full-time and part-time status is derived, and alternative approaches to understanding full-time and part-time work (see Understanding full-time and part-time work)

    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 January 2021:

    • The unemployment rate decreased 0.2 pts to 6.4% (1.1 pts higher than a year ago)
    • Unemployed people decreased by 34,300 to 877,600 (and increased by 156,000 over the year to January 2021)
    • The youth unemployment rate remained at 13.9% (and increased by 1.8 pts over the year to January 2021)


    In seasonally adjusted terms, in January 2021:

    • Employment increased by 29,100 people (0.2%) to 12,939,900 people
    • Over the year to January 2021, employment decreased by 0.4% or 45,600 people

    Flows into and out of 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 December and January (based on the matched sample). It shows that:

    • 95% of people employed in December were also employed in January (with 1% moving to unemployment and 4% to not in the labour force)
    • 61% of people unemployed in December were also unemployed in January (with 16% moving to employment and 23% to not in the labour force)
    • 93% of people not in the labour force in December were also not in the labour force in January (with 4% moving to employment and 3% to unemployment)

      Flows in labour force status, December to January

      Flows in labour force status, December 2020 to January 2021

      Flows in labour force status, December to January


      Full-time and part-time employment

      In seasonally adjusted terms, in January 2021:

      • Full-time employment increased by 59,000 to 8,820,400 people, and part-time employment decreased by 29,800 to 4,119,500 people
      • Over the year to January 2021, full-time employment decreased by 62,900 people and part-time employment increased by 17,300 people
      • The part-time share of employment over the past 12 months, increased 0.2 pts to 31.8%

       See the article Understanding full-time and part-time work for further analysis.

      Employment-to-population ratio

      In seasonally adjusted terms, in January 2021:

      • The employment-to-population ratio increased by 0.1 pts to 61.9%, and decreased by 0.7 pts from the same time last year

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


      Hours worked

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

      • Decreased by 86.0 million hours (4.9%) to 1,667 million hours
      • Decreased by 5.7% over the year, larger than the 0.4% decrease in employed people

      See the article Insights into hours worked for more.



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

      • Decreased by 0.1 pts to 66.1%, and increased 0.1 pts over the year to January 2021
      • Increased by 0.1 pts for men (to 71.2%) and decreased by 0.2 pts for women (to 61.2%)


      In seasonally adjusted terms, in January 2021:

      • The underemployment rate decreased by 0.4 pts to 8.1% (0.4 pts lower than a year ago)
      • The underutilisation rate decreased by 0.6 pts to 14.5%

      States and territories

      January 2021, Seasonally adjusted
      New South WalesVictoriaQueenslandSouth AustraliaWestern AustraliaTasmaniaNorthern TerritoryAustralian Capital TerritoryAustralia
      Employed people4,075,2003,429,4002,582,200840,2001,366,400257,100130,600234,00012,939,900
      Employed people - monthly change0.0%1.3%0.1%-1.4%-1.0%1.2%1.1%-2.0%0.2%
      Employment to population ratio61.3%62.4%61.7%57.7%63.6%57.4%69.3%68.1%61.9%
      Employment to population ratio - monthly change0.0 pts0.8 pts0.0 pts-0.9 pts-0.7 pts0.6 pts0.8 pts-1.4 pts0.1 pts
      Unemployment rate6.0%6.3%7.0%7.1%6.2%5.9%5.6%4.4%6.4%
      Unemployment rate - monthly change-0.3 pts-0.2 pts-0.5 pts0.7 pts-0.1 pts-1.1 pts0.2 pts0.7 pts-0.2 pts
      Underemployment rate8.0%8.5%8.6%8.3%7.0%8.9%6.9%5.7%8.1%
      Underemployment rate - monthly change-0.4 pts-0.5 pts0.1 pts-2.0 pts-0.6 pts-0.9 pts0.6 pts-0.3 pts-0.4 pts
      Participation rate65.3%66.7%66.3%62.1%67.8%61.0%73.4%71.2%66.1%
      Participation rate - monthly change-0.3 pts0.6 pts-0.4 pts-0.4 pts-0.8 pts-0.1 pts1.0 pts-1.0 pts-0.1 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
      December outgoing rotation groupJanuary incoming rotation groupJanuary outgoing rotation groupJanuary estimate (Original)
      Employment to population ratio60.9%61.4%60.4%61.1%
      Full-time employment to population ratio40.5%43.1%41.9%42.0%
      Unemployment rate5.3%6.3%7.0%6.9%
      Participation rate64.2%65.6%65.0%65.6%

      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 November 2020, the incoming rotation group in Queensland had a higher unemployment rate than the group it replaced, and had a higher unemployment rate than the average over the matched sample. 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 has 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.

      Between April and September 2020 additional weighting treatments were used to effectively account for a slightly higher level of non-response. No such treatment was required after September, 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.