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
October 2020

Key statistics

​Seasonally adjusted estimates for October 2020:

  • Unemployment rate increased to 7.0%.
  • Participation rate increased to 65.8%.
  • Employment increased to 12,773,900.
  • Employment to population ratio increased to 61.2%.
  • Underemployment rate decreased to 10.4%.
  • Monthly hours worked increased by 21 million hours.
    Sep-20Oct-20Monthly changeMonthly change (%)Yearly changeYearly change (%)
    Seasonally adjusted
    Employed people12,595,10012,773,900178,8001.4%-132,300-1.0%
    Unemployed people935,400960,90025,5002.7%238,90033.1%
    Unemployment rate6.9%7.0%0.1 ptsna1.7 ptsna
    Underemployment rate11.4%10.4%-1.0 ptsna1.9 ptsna
    Participation rate64.9%65.8%0.9 ptsna-0.1 ptsna
    Monthly hours worked in all jobs 1,690 million 1,711 million21 million1.2%-61 million-3.4%

    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 October Labour Force Survey was run in respect of the two weeks from Sunday 27 September to Saturday 10 October, and collected over the three weeks from Sunday 4 October to Saturday 24 October.

    The following image provides a timeline of events from March to October showing LFS collection periods, headline results as well as COVID-related community and business changes and announcements.
    The following image provides a timeline of events from March to October showing LFS collection periods, headline results as well as COVID-related community and business changes and announcements. From 21st to 29th of March social distancing rules and additional shutdowns and/or restrictions were implemented including the shutdown of non-essential services beginning 22nd of March. Data was collected for the April LFS reference weeks 29th March to 11th April; collected 5th to 25th April during which the JobKeeper payment was announced.

    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 has temporarily suspended trend series 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'.

    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 recipients did not have to meet the usual mutual obligation requirements, such as looking for work. As these obligations are gradually reinstated, and 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 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.

    For further information, please email

    Articles and other information

    This months Labour Force release includes additional analysis of hours worked, including for those people working zero hours for economic reasons (see Insights into hours worked). 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 October 2020:

    • The unemployment rate increased 0.1 pts to 7.0% (1.7 pts higher than a year ago)
    • Unemployment increased by 25,500 to 960,900 people (and increased by 238,900 over the year to October 2020)
    • The youth unemployment rate increased 1.0 pts to 15.6% (and increased by 3.1 pts over the year to October 2020)

    People not looking for work

    The number of people who (were not employed and) did not look for work rose considerably in April and May, but has since decreased to pre-COVID levels. The increase was particularly pronounced for young people, with the number of people aged 15-24 who did not look for work increasing by around 300,000 between March and May.

    Note: People not looking for work refers to people who are not employed and indicated they did not look for work. This excludes people who 'passively' looked for work.


    In seasonally adjusted terms, in October 2020:

    • employment increased by 178,800 people (1.4%) to 12,773,900 people
    • over the year to October 2020, employment decreased by 1.0% or 132,300 people

    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 550,000 people entered employment (i.e. they were not employed in September but were employed in October), while around 410,000 people left employment (i.e. they were employed in September but were not employed in October). The flow into employment between September and October was greater than the flow into employment between August and September (490,000), while the flow out of employment was lower than the 440,000 seen between August and September.

    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 September and October (based on the matched sample). It shows that:

    • 97% of people employed in September were also employed in October (with 1% moving to unemployment and 2% to not in the labour force)
    • 61% of people unemployed in September were also unemployed in October (with 22% moving to employment and 17% to not in the labour force)
    • 92% of people not in the labour force in September were also not in the labour force in October (with 5% moving to employment and 3% to unemployment)

    Flows in labour force status, September to October

    Flows in labour force status, September to October

    Full-time and part-time employment

    In seasonally adjusted terms, in October 2020:

    • Full-time employment increased by 97,000 to 8,643,700 people, and part-time employment increased by 81,800 to 4,130,200 people
    • Over the year to October 2020, full-time employment decreased by 186,800 people and part-time employment increased by 54,500 people
    • The part-time share of employment over the past 12 months, increased 0.8 percentage points to 32.3%.


    Employment-to-population ratio

    In seasonally adjusted terms, in October 2020:

    • the employment-to-population ratio increased by 0.8 pts to 61.2%, and decreased by 1.3 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 October 2020, monthly hours worked in all jobs:

    • increased by 20.6 million hours (1.2%) to 1,711 million hours
    • decreased by 3.4% over the year, which is larger than the 1.0% decrease in employed people

    See the article Insights into hours worked for more.


    In seasonally adjusted terms, in October 2020, the participation rate:

    • increased by 0.9 pts to 65.8%, and decreased 0.1 pts over the year to October 2020
    • increased by 1.1 pts for men (to 70.8%) and increased by 0.8 pts for women (to 61.0%)


    In seasonally adjusted terms, in October 2020:

    • the underemployment rate decreased by 1.0 pts to 10.4% (1.9 pts higher than a year ago)
    • the underutilisation rate decreased by 0.9 pts to 17.4%

    States and territories

    October 2020, Seasonally adjusted
    New South WalesVictoriaQueenslandSouth AustraliaWestern AustraliaTasmaniaNorthern TerritoryAustralian Capital TerritoryAustralia
    Employed people4,070,8003,302,4002,563,500853,0001,366,200251,600129,200247,90012,773,900
    Employed people - monthly change0.90%2.50%1.00%0.70%1.10%0.00%2.40%3.60%1.40%
    Employment to population ratio61.30%60.20%61.50%58.70%63.80%56.30%68.60%72.30%61.20%
    Employment to population ratio - monthly change0.5 pts1.5 pts0.5 pts0.4 pts0.7 pts0.0 pts1.7 pts2.5 pts0.8 pts
    Unemployment rate6.50%7.40%7.70%7.00%6.60%8.20%5.70%3.90%7.00%
    Unemployment rate - monthly change-0.7 pts0.7 pts0.1 pts0.1 pts-0.1 pts0.6 pts1.0 pts0.1 pts0.1 pts
    Underemployment rate9.90%13.00%9.50%10.00%8.40%10.40%8.00%7.70%10.40%
    Underemployment rate - monthly change-0.2 pts-1.9 pts-1.3 pts-1.2 pts-0.9 pts-0.5 pts1.6 pts0.9 pts-1.0 pts
    Participation rate65.60%65.00%66.60%63.10%68.30%61.40%72.80%75.20%65.80%
    Participation rate - monthly change0.1 pts2.0 pts0.7 pts0.5 pts0.6 pts0.3 pts2.5 pts2.7 pts0.9 pts

    Rotation group analysis

    Sample composition and rotation

    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
    September outgoing rotation groupOctober incoming rotation groupOctober outgoing rotation groupOctober estimate (Original)
    Employment to population ratio60.5%60.7%62.5%61.1%
    Full-time employement to population ratio41.7%40.4%42.8%41.3%
    Unemployment rate6.2%7.0%6.7%6.7%
    Participation rate64.5%65.2%67.0%65.5%

    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 June 2020, the incoming rotation group in Victoria had a higher unemployment to population ratio than the group it replaced, and had a higher unemployment 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 2020 onwards to around the same level 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 additional weighting treatments were used to effectively account for a slightly higher level of non-response. No such treatment was required in October, 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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