Potential workers

Latest release

Potential labour supply of people who are not working, including wanting to work, availability for work, job attachment and job search.

Reference period
February 2024

Key statistics

In February 2024:

  • 1.9 million people were not working but wanted to work (potential workers)
  • 1.1 million people were available to start work immediately (in the week before the survey interview)
  • 82% unemployed people reported difficulty finding work.

More information from the annual Participation, Job Search and Mobility (PJSM) survey is available in these topic-based releases:

Microdata from the PJSM survey for 2015 to 2024 is available in TableBuilder and DataLab (as a supplementary file to the Longitudinal Labour Force). For more information, refer to Microdata and TableBuilder: Participation, Job Search and Mobility

A detailed data item list for the PJSM microdata is available in Microdata and TableBuilder: Participation, Job Search and Mobility

Potential workers and marginal attachment to the labour force

People who want to work

In February 2024, there were 21.6 million people in the usually resident civilian population who were aged 15 years or over, of whom:

  • 14 million were employed
  • 1.9 million were not working but wanted to work (potential workers)
  • 5.7 million did not want to work or were permanently not able to work (not potential workers).

Of the 1.9 million potential workers:

  • 300,000 were attached to a job that they were about to start or were away from a job that they could return to
  • 1.6 million were without a job.

Between February 2023 and February 2024, the number of potential workers without job attachment increased from 1.4 million to 1.6 million. Over the same period, employment rose from 13.6 to 14 million. For more information on the rise in employment, refer to Job mobility.

Of the 1.9 million potential workers:

  • 518,600 looked for work
  • 328,500 had a job to go to, or return to (potential workers with job attachment)
  • 1,033,500 did not look for work.

Over three-quarters of those who wanted to work, but did not look for work, were available to start in the previous week or within the next four weeks.

Marginal attachment framework

Measures of potential workers

The number of unemployed people is an important measure for monitoring the labour market. Unemployment is necessarily strictly defined to reflect an economic measure of the immediately active and available labour supply, at a specific point in time.

However, there are additional ways to look at the potential workforce - either as potential workers now or potential workers in the short to medium-term. Note that in this context, the potential workforce reflects people within the usually resident population in Australia in February 2024, and does not account for potential workers from other countries (including former or future residents of Australia, who may work in the Australian labour market in the future).

In February 2024, there were 1.9 million people who were potential workers. This was 12% of the 15.9 million people in the 'potential labour force' (i.e. those who were either employed or were potential workers). Of these, 554,400 were classified as unemployed.

*Note: the monthly series of Potential workers with job attachment from the labour force survey provided above (grey line) is not as comprehensively measured as the annual surveys of PJSM, which asks additional questions to determine a greater extent of job attachment. Although it is not as complete, the monthly series does provide some additional context to the unusual movements that happened in the months between the annual surveys that would otherwise be hidden.

State and territory

The states or territories with the lowest potential workers to population ratios in February 2024 were:

  • Northern Territory - 7.6%
  • South Australia - 8.4%
  • Australian Capital Territory - 8.5%
  • New South Wales - 8.5%.

The states or territories with the greatest fall or rise in potential workers to population ratios between 2023 and 2024 were:

  • Northern Territory - down 1.7 percentage points (from 9.3% to 7.6%)
  • Tasmania - up 1.1 percentage points (from 8.4% to 9.5%)
  • Australian Capital Territory - up 1.1 percentage points (from 7.4% to 8.5%).

Availability for work

Not all potential workers are available to start work immediately. Of the 1.9 million people in February 2024 who wanted to work:

  • 1.1 million were available to start work in the previous week.
  • 483,000 were available to start work within four weeks (but not last week).
  • 329,800 were not available to start work within four weeks.


The main reasons people who wanted to work were not available to start within four weeks were:

  • Caring for children – 65,100 (21%)
  • Studying, or returning to studies – 62,700 (20%)
  • Own long-term health condition or disability – 58,200 (18%)
  • Own short-term health condition or injury – 28,000 (9%)
  • Caring for ill or elderly person/relative – 24,500 (8%).

Not looking for work

People who were unavailable for work in the short to medium-term may not begin looking for work until it is closer to the time when they will be able to work. Of those who were not available within four weeks:

  • 49,700 looked for work in the last 12 months
  • 280,100 did not look for work in the last 12 months.


There were 809,600 people who wanted to work, were available to start either immediately or within four weeks, but did not actively look for work. The main reasons they did not actively look for work last week were:

  • Attending an educational institution – 197,100
  • Childcare – 112,100
  • Own long-term health condition or disability - 97,500.

Difficulties finding work

In February 2024, of the 554,400 unemployed people, 82% reported having difficulty finding work.

The main difficulty for job seekers in February 2024 was 'Too many applicants for available jobs'.

Other difficulties, nec - includes multiple difficulties not elsewhere classified

People who don't want to work

In February 2024, there were 5.7 million people aged 15 years or over who did not want to work, or were permanently unable to work. The main activities of people who did not want to work were:

  • Retired – 3 million (60%)
  • Home duties – 529,400 (10%)
  • Attending an educational institution – 486,300 (10%)
  • Own long-term health condition or disability - 292,800 (6%).

There were 751,500 people who were permanently unable to work.

Data downloads

Potential workers

Data files

Table 4a is an alternative version of Table 4 with additional detail around the specific childcare reasons for why people are not looking for work. The new table layout is very similar to Table 5 of Barriers and Incentives to Labour Force Participation and is an example of how we might redevelop the outputs of PJSM in the future and look for ways to improve coherence with the Barriers and Incentives release.

Job search experience

Data files

Relative standard errors, Tables 1 to 9

Previous catalogue number

This release uses ABS catalogue number 6228.0*.

Data from this release was previously published in:


* Note: Catalogue number 6228.0 was previously used for Survey of Persons Registered with the CES as Unemployed (Preliminary), Mar 1977.

** Note: Catalogue number 6226.0 was previously used for School Leavers, 1970 to 1974: their Employment Status and Education Experience, May 1975.

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