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
March 2021

Key statistics

Seasonally adjusted estimates for March 2021:

  • Unemployment rate decreased to 5.6%.
  • Participation rate increased to 66.3%.
  • Employment increased to 13,077,600.
  • Employment to population ratio increased to 62.6%.
  • Underemployment rate decreased to 7.9%.
  • Monthly hours worked increased by 38 million hours.
Feb-21Mar-21Monthly changeMonthly change (%)Yearly changeYearly change (%)
Seasonally adjusted
Employed people13,006,90013,077,60070,7000.5%74,3000.6%
Unemployed people805,200778,100-27,100-3.4%62,1008.7%
Unemployment rate5.8%5.6%-0.2 ptsna0.4 ptsna
Underemployment rate8.5%7.9%-0.6 ptsna-0.9 ptsna
Participation rate66.1%66.3%0.2 ptsna0.4 ptsna
Monthly hours worked in all jobs 1,762 million 1,800 million38 million2.2%22 million1.2%

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

How the end of JobKeeper will be reflected in April and May Labour Force statistics

The end of the JobKeeper wage subsidy on 28 March 2021 is expected to result in some people losing their jobs or changing jobs, which will be reflected in Labour Force statistics for April and May 2021. The reference period for the April survey is 4-17 April, entirely after the end of JobKeeper.

There are a range of scenarios for people who were in JobKeeper-supported jobs. Some may have continued in their job beyond the end of March, some may have changed jobs, and others may have lost their job (and have no job).

How people are categorised as ‘employed’ or ‘not employed’ will follow the long-standing concepts and practices used in Labour Force statistics.

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 after JobKeeper will be considered ‘employed’. This could reflect that they remained in and were paid in their previously JobKeeper-supported job, or that they changed jobs.

If they DIDN’T do any paid work, 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).

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 for any part of the last four weeks. For people who were previously in JobKeeper-supported jobs, if they indicate that they still had a job in April and met these conditions, they would be considered ‘employed’ in April. Some of these people could then potentially be ‘not employed’ in May, if they were away for 4 weeks or longer and were not paid in the previous 4 weeks.

Therefore, a key factor will be whether people who were in JobKeeper-supported jobs, but who no longer have a paid work, consider that they still had a job in April.

Seasonal adjustment and trend estimates

To support the continuing use of the forward factors approach through the COVID period, the ABS is undertaking an ‘Extraordinary Annual Series Review’ of Labour Force series, ahead of the release of April 2021 data (on 20 May 2021). This process is more comprehensive than the standard annual review and will ensure that large changes during the COVID-19 period do not unduly affect estimates of seasonal factors. The outcome of this process will be summarised in the next release. 

Trend series continue to be suspended and 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'.

Survey response and timeline

The March Labour Force Survey was run in respect of the two weeks from Sunday 28 February to Saturday 13 March, and collected over the period from Sunday 7 March to Saturday 27 March.

M2103 COVID timeline
The following image provides a timeline of events from March 2020 to March 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.

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 earlier, on 11 November, rather than 18 November.

Minor revisions to seasonally adjusted hours worked estimates for February 2021

Additional quality assurance of the seasonal adjustment of monthly hours worked has resulted in minor revisions to estimates for February 2021. At the Australia level, the February estimate was revised down by around 4.6 million hours (around 0.3%).

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 March 2021:

  • The unemployment rate decreased 0.2 pts to 5.6% (0.4 pts higher than a year ago)
  • Unemployed people decreased by 27,100 to 778,100 (and increased by 62,100 over the year to March 2021)
  • The youth unemployment rate decreased 1.1 pts to 11.8% (and increased by 0.2 pts over the year to March 2021)


In seasonally adjusted terms, in March 2021:

  • Employment increased by 70,700 people (0.5%) to 13,077,600 people
  • Over the year to March 2021, employment increased 74,300 people, 0.6%


Flows into and out of employment

Underpinning this net increase in the number of employed people are extensive flows of people into and out of employment. Around 470,000 people entered employment (i.e. they were not employed in February but were employed in March), while around 420,000 people left employment (i.e. they were employed in February but were not employed in March). This contrasts with the previous month, where around 680,000 people entered employment and around 360,000 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 February and March (based on the matched sample). It shows that:

  • 97% of people employed in February were also employed in March (with 1% moving to unemployment and 2% to not in the labour force)
  • 59% of people unemployed in February were also unemployed in March (with 22% moving to employment and 18% to not in the labour force)
  • 93% of people not in the labour force in February were also not in the labour force in March (with 4% moving to employment and 3% to unemployment)


Flows in labour force status, February to March


Flows in labour force status, February to March

Full-time and part-time employment

In seasonally adjusted terms, in March 2021:

  • Full-time employment decreased by 20,800 to 8,874,200 people, and part-time employment increased by 91,500 to 4,203,400 people
  • Over the year to March 2021, full-time employment decreased by 2,500 people and part-time employment increased by 76,800 people
  • The part-time share of employment over the past 12 months increased by 0.4 pts to 32.1%

A discussion of how full-time and part-time status is derived can be found in Understanding full-time and part-time work.

Employment-to-population ratio

In seasonally adjusted terms, in March 2021:

  • The employment-to-population ratio increased by 0.3 pts to 62.6%, and has increased by 0.1 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 March 2021, monthly hours worked in all jobs :

  • Increased by 38 million hours (2.2%) to 1,800 million hours above the revised February 1,762 million hours
  • Increased by 1.2% over the year, which is larger than the less 0.6% increase in employed people

See the article Insights into hours worked for more.


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

  • Increased 0.2 pts to 66.3%, and has increased 0.4 pts over the year to March 2021
  • Decreased by less than 0.1 pts for men (to 70.9%) and increased by 0.4 pts for women (to 61.8%)


In seasonally adjusted terms, in March 2021:

  • The underemployment rate decreased by 0.6 pts to 7.9% (0.9 pts lower than a year ago)
  • The underutilisation rate decreased by 0.8 pts to 13.5%

States and territories

March 2021, Seasonally adjusted
New South WalesVictoriaQueenslandSouth AustraliaWestern AustraliaTasmaniaNorthern TerritoryAustralian Capital TerritoryAustralia
Employed people4,127,8003,445,4002,627,100846,8001,402,000261,600129,500233,40013,077,600
Employed people - monthly change0.4%0.2%0.9%-0.1%2.4%0.2%-1.2%-1.1%0.5%
Employment to population ratio62.1%62.9%62.7%58.0%65.1%58.3%68.6%68.0%62.6%
Employment to population ratio - monthly change0.2 pts0.1 pts0.5 pts-0.1 pts1.5 pts0.1 pts-0.8 pts-0.8 pts0.3 pts
Unemployment rate5.4%6.1%5.9%6.3%4.8%5.9%5.6%3.4%5.6%
Unemployment rate - monthly change-0.3 pts0.4 pts-0.3 pts-0.5 pts-1.3 pts0.2 pts0.6 pts-0.6 pts-0.2 pts
Underemployment rate7.9%7.7%8.6%8.6%7.4%9.4%5.1%4.7%7.9%
Underemployment rate - monthly change-0.3 pts-1.4 pts0.2 pts0.0 pts-1.2 pts0.4 pts0.6 pts-0.3 pts-0.6 pts
Participation rate65.7%66.9%66.6%61.9%68.4%61.9%72.7%70.4%66.3%
Participation rate - monthly change0.0 pts0.4 pts0.3 pts-0.4 pts0.6 pts0.2 pts-0.4 pts-1.3 pts0.2 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
February outgoing rotation groupMarch incoming rotation groupMarch outgoing rotation groupMarch estimate (Original)
Employment to population ratio60.7%60.9%63.3%62.6%
Full-time employment to population ratio42.3%39.6%41.9%42.3%
Unemployment rate6.0%6.4%5.7%6.0%
Participation rate64.6%65.1%67.1%66.6%

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 March 2021, the incoming rotation group in New South Wales had a lower full-time employment to population ratio than the group it replaced, and had a lower full-time employment to population ratio 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.

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