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 2021

Key statistics

Seasonally adjusted estimates for October 2021:

  • Unemployment rate increased to 5.2%.
  • Participation rate increased to 64.7%.
  • Employment decreased to 12,835,200.
  • Employment to population ratio decreased to 61.3%.
  • Underemployment rate increased to 9.5%.
  • Monthly hours worked decreased by 1 million hours.
Sep-2021Oct-2021Monthly changeMonthly change (%)Yearly changeYearly change (%)
Seasonally adjusted
Employed people12,881,50012,835,200-46,300-0.4%94,1000.7%
Unemployed people625,500707,30081,80013.1%-242,300-25.5%
Unemployment rate4.6%5.2%0.6 ptsna-1.7 ptsna
Underemployment rate9.2%9.5%0.3 ptsna-0.9 ptsna
Participation rate64.5%64.7%0.1 ptsna-1.0 ptsna
Monthly hours worked in all jobs 1,729 million 1,727 million-1 million-0.1%-6 million-0.4%

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

Hours worked - insights and additional data

The ABS is continuing to publish insights into hours worked each month, 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. 

Unemployment and job loss in Australia during the COVID-19 period

There are many ways to analyse unemployment and the loss of work using ABS Labour Force Survey statistics. Given the unusual labour market impacts and recovery during the pandemic, the ABS has been highlighting changes in hours worked (including people working reduced or no hours), underemployment, changes in employment and unemployment, and changes in labour force participation.

There have been a range of composite measures produced from ABS Labour Force data to explore aggregate changes in the labour market during the pandemic. For example, the Commonwealth Treasury has produced a composite measure, referred to as the 'effective unemployment rate', which includes unemployed people, plus any unseasonal increase in employed people who still had a job but worked zero hours for 'economic' or 'other reasons', plus the net change in people in the labour force (compared with a fixed base period), as a proportion of the labour force in the fixed base period. When calculating the effective unemployment rate for Australia, Commonwealth Treasury are currently using May 2021 as the base month, which was prior to the lockdowns related to the Delta variant.

In addition to considering net changes in Labour Force populations (which can be found in Time series spreadsheet Table 1 of Labour Force, Australia), the ABS also produces information on the underlying components of this net change - the flows into and out of the labour force. Information on these flows is available, in original terms, in datacube GM1.

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.

A spotlight on changes in job attachment during the pandemic is included in this release.

Upcoming revisions to estimates of the number of employed 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.

As foreshadowed in previous Labour Force and Labour Account releases, a new model (incorporating improved data sources and method enhancements) to estimate the number of short-term/temporary non-residents who are employed will be implemented into the Labour Account with the September quarter 2021, to be published on 8 December 2021.

This will result in downward revisions to aggregate quarterly and annual Labour Account series across the People, Jobs and Hours quadrants, and be implemented alongside a range of historical and other revisions.

For reference, the improved methodology estimates around 150,000 employed short-term/temporary non-residents before the start of the pandemic, which fell to around 5,000 during the pandemic, as a result of border restrictions.

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).

The October 2021 Labour Force reference and collection periods were brought forward by a week to minimise the overlap with the Post Census Review (also referred to as the Census Post Enumeration Survey). The October 2021 survey enumeration started on Sunday 3 October, slightly earlier than the Sunday between 5th and 11th, as stated in Methodology. ABS has undertaken additional analysis on the October estimates, to ensure that this change was effectively accounted for in the seasonal adjustment process.

Survey response and timeline

The October Labour Force Survey was run in respect of the two weeks from Sunday 26 September to Saturday 9 October, and collected over the period from Sunday 3 October to Saturday 23 October.

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
September 202129th August 202111th September 20215th September 202125th September 2021
October 202126th September 20219th October 20213th October 202123th October 2021
November 202131st October 202113th November 20217th November 202127th November 2021
December 202128th November 202111th December 20215th December 202123rd December 2021
January 20222nd January 202215th January 20229th January 202229th January 2022
February 202230th January 202212th February 20226th February 202226th February 2022

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 October 2021:

  • The unemployment rate increased by 0.6 pts to 5.2%
  • The unemployment rate was less than 0.1 pts below March 2020
  • Unemployed people increased by 81,800 to 707,300 
  • Unemployed people was 15,900 lower than March 2020
  • The youth unemployment rate increased by 2.3 pts to 13.1%
  • The youth unemployment rate was 1.5 pts higher than March 2020


In seasonally adjusted terms, in October 2021:

  • Employment decreased by 46,300 people (0.4%) to 12,835,200 people
  • Employment was 160,300 people (1.2%) lower 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 October 2021 the net change in the number of employed people is the result of around 540,000 people entered employment (i.e. they were not employed in September but were employed in October), while around 540,000 people left employment (i.e. they were employed in September but were not employed in October). This contrasts with September 2021 where around 520,000 people entered employment and around 630,000 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 September and October (based on the matched sample). It shows that:

  • 96% of people employed in September were also employed in October (with 1% moving to unemployment and 3% to not in the labour force)
  • 55% of people unemployed in September were also unemployed in October (with 23% moving to employment and 22% 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

Flows in labour force status, September to October

This 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: - 96% of people employed in September were also employed in October (with 1% moving to unemployment and 3% to not in the labour force) - 55% of people unemployed in September were also unemployed in October (with 23% moving to employment and 22% 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)

Full-time and part-time employment

In seasonally adjusted terms, in October 2021:

  • Full-time employment decreased by 40,400 to 8,941,200 people, and part-time employment decreased by 5,900 to 3,894,000 people
  • The part-time share of employment was 30.3%, 1.4 pts lower than in March 2020


Employment-to-population ratio

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

  • Decreased by 0.3 pts to 61.3%
  • Lower than March 2020 by 1.1 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 October 2021, monthly hours worked in all jobs:

  • ​​​​​Decreased by 1.5 million hours (0.1%) to 1,727 million hours
  • Decreased by 37.8 million hours (2.1%) from March 2020 

See the article Insights into hours worked for more.


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

  • Increased by 0.1 pts to 64.7%

  • Increased by 0.3 pts for men to 69.5% and remained at 60.0% for women

  • Lower than March 2020 by 1.2 pts


In seasonally adjusted terms, in October 2021:

  • The underemployment rate increased by 0.3 pts to 9.5%
  • The underemployment rate was 0.7 pts higher than March 2020 
  • The underutilisation rate increased by 0.9 pts to 14.7%

States and territories

October 2021, Seasonally adjusted
New South WalesVictoriaQueenslandSouth AustraliaWestern AustraliaTasmaniaNorthern TerritoryAustralian Capital TerritoryAustralia
Employed people3,953,2003,313,7002,649,700875,9001,422,800261,000133,600221,00012,835,200
Employed people - monthly change0.6%-1.5%-0.3%0.3%-0.3%-0.8%2.8%-2.1%-0.4%
Employment to population ratio59.3%60.9%62.7%59.9%65.7%58.0%69.8%63.9%61.3%
Employment to population ratio - monthly change0.3 pts-0.9 pts-0.3 pts0.1 pts-0.3 pts-0.5 pts1.9 pts-1.5 pts-0.3 pts
Unemployment rate5.4%5.6%5.1%5.3%3.9%5.1%3.9%6.6%5.2%
Unemployment rate - monthly change0.8 pts0.9 pts0.3 pts0.2 pts-0.2 pts0.3 pts-0.3 pts2.5 pts0.6 pts
Underemployment rate10.6%11.3%7.9%8.2%6.3%8.1%6.7%8.2%9.5%
Underemployment rate - monthly change0.4 pts1.3 pts-0.3 pts-0.2 pts-0.9 pts-0.4 pts1.7 pts-0.3 pts0.3 pts
Participation rate62.6%64.6%66.2%63.2%68.4%61.1%72.6%68.4%64.7%
Participation rate - monthly change0.8 pts-0.4 pts-0.1 pts0.3 pts-0.4 pts-0.3 pts1.7 pts0.2 pts0.1 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
September outgoing rotation groupOctober incoming rotation groupOctober outgoing rotation groupOctober estimate (Original)
Employment to population ratio61.4%60.1%58.8%61.2%
Full-time employment to population ratio43.0%41.4%40.0%42.5%
Unemployment rate4.2%5.2%5.4%5.0%
Participation rate64.2%63.5%62.2%64.5%

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 October 2021, the incoming rotation group in New South Wales had a lower employment-to-population ratio and participation rate than the group it replaced. These measures in the incoming rotation group were also lower than in most other rotation groups.

Also, the incoming rotation group in Victoria had a higher unemployment rate than the group it replaced in October 2021. This rate in the incoming rotation group was also higher than most other rotation groups.

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.

In response to the data collection challenges presented by lockdowns in South East Australia related to the COVID-19 Delta strain, the ABS boosted the size of the sample for the incoming rotation group in New South Wales in September 2021, and in New South Wales and Victoria in October 2021. This has ensured that survey response has remained at a similar level to the pre-COVID period. The incoming rotation groups for November and December 2021 will also be boosted to ensure a comparable level of responding households.

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

However, response patterns and the potential use of additional weighting treatments have been closely assessed by the ABS during the Delta lockdowns from July 2021. With October 2021 data now available, a small increase in non-response bias was detected within the incoming rotation groups in Victoria in September and October 2021. An extra weighting treatment has been used to account for this small increase in non-response bias, resulting in small revisions to some September estimates.

This additional weighting treatment will continue to be reviewed each month, as new data becomes available.

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

Changes to Excel file format on the ABS website

In line with updating to more recent technology formats, the ABS will progressively transition to releasing Excel files in the .XLSX format. This means that timeseries spreadsheets in the suite of labour statistics releases will be progressively upgraded from .XLS files to .XLSX files.

While this change will improve usability, it may also require changes to automated macros or similar programs that users may have in place that call on the current file extension format.

For Labour Force products, this change will take effect from the release of November data on 16 December 2021 and for the release of detailed data on 23 December 2021. Previously released data will not change.

Changes will be reflected in other labour statistics from the following dates:

  • Characteristics of Employment, to be released on 14 December 2021
  • Employee Earnings, to be released on 14 December 2021
  • Working arrangements, to be released on 14 December 2021
  • Job Vacancies, to be released on 12 January 2022
  • Employee Earnings and Hours, to be released on 19 January 2022
  • Average Weekly Earnings, to be released on 24 February 2022
  • Labour Account, to be released on 9 March 2022
  • Industrial Disputes, to be released on 10 March 2022

Some labour statistics, such as Weekly Payroll Jobs and Wages in Australia, already publish Excel data in .XLSX format. No changes will be required for those releases.

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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