Latest release

Potential workers

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

Reference period
February 2022
Released
24/05/2022
Next release Unknown

Key statistics

In February 2022, there were 20.7 million people in the usually resident civilian population who were aged 15 years or over, of whom:

  • 13.4 million were employed.
  • 1.8 million were not working but wanted to work (potential workers).
  • 5.5 million did not want to work or were permanently not able to work (not potential workers).

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

Tables related to Underemployed workers with results from the February 2022 survey are available now in Participation, Job Search and Mobility.

Microdata from the PJSM survey for 2015 to 2022 will be available in DataLab on 27 May 2022 as a supplementary file to the Longitudinal Labour Force. For more information, refer to Microdata and TableBuilder: Participation, Job Search and Mobility

Potential workers and marginal attachment to the labour force

Since 2021, a simpler approach has been used for presenting statistics on unused labour supply. This Potential workers release of PJSM data presents statistics on all people who are not employed (i.e. regardless of their classification in the monthly Labour Force Survey as unemployed or not in the labour force), and the extent to which they may be regarded as "Potential workers" based on their circumstances and activities.

Historically, PJSM content has been presented using the marginal attachment framework and the characteristics of people "not participating in the labour force" were based on the criteria used to derive unemployment (i.e. job search activity and/or availability). 

While the new approach to presenting statistics for potential workers differs slightly from the traditional marginal attachment framework, and presents some population groups that do not entirely overlap with some of the marginally attached groups, there is still a strong alignment between them. Statistics within the traditional marginal attachment framework are also still available.

People who want to work

In February 2022, there were 20.7 million people in the usually resident civilian population who were aged 15 years or over, of whom:

  • 13.4 million were employed.
  • 1.8 million were not working but wanted to work (potential workers).
  • 5.5 million did not want to work or were permanently not able to work (not potential workers).

Of the 1.8 million potential workers:

  • 0.4 million were attached to a job that they were about to start or were away from a job that they could return to.
  • 1.4 million were without a job.

Between February 2021 and February 2022, the number of potential workers without job attachment fell from 1.8 million to 1.4 million. Over the same period, employment rose from 12.9 to 13.3 million. For more information on the rise in employment, refer to Job mobility.

Of the 1.8 million potential workers:

  • 503,700 looked for work
  • 367,500 had a job to go to, or return to (potential workers with job attachment)
  • 934,700 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

    A tree diagram that shows for the population is split into the labour force, marginally attached, potential workers and not marginally attached.
    The top level is the civilian population aged 15+ years at 20,716,000. This divides into employed persons with 13,363,000; and not employed persons with 7,352,000. Unemployed persons, including ‘Future starters’ (people who had a job to go to and could have started in the reference week) –, at 561,000. The labour force total is at 13,924,000.
    Not employed persons divides into two: First, those who wanted to work, including people who might want to work with 1,806,000. Second, people who did not want to work, including people who are permanently unable to work and those who ‘did not know’ with 5,547,000.
    ‘Wanted to work’ divides into three: had a job to go to, referring to people who had a job to go to but were not available to start in the reference week, with 248,000; actively looked for work with 623,000; and did not actively look for work with 935,000.
    ‘Actively looked for work’ divides into three: First, unemployed persons including people who had a job to go to and could have started in the reference week with 561,000. Second, those who were available to start within four weeks, referring to people who were not available to start in the reference week, with 46,000. Third, those who were not available to start within four weeks with 17,000.
    ‘Did not actively look for work’ divides into two: First, those available to start within four weeks with 745,000. Second, those not available to start within four weeks with 190,000.
    ‘Available to start within four weeks’ divides into two: ‘Discouraged job seekers’ with 88,000, and ‘other reasons’ with 657,000. The total of ‘Marginally attached to the labour force with 1,056,000 is made of ‘had a job to go to’, referring to people who had a job to go to but were not available to start in the reference week, ‘Available to start within four weeks’, referring to people who were not available to start in the reference week and those ‘Not available to start within four weeks’. The total of ‘people without marginal attachment to the labour force with 5,736,000 is made up of people who ‘Did not actively look for work’ who are ‘Not available to start within four week and people who ‘did not want to work’. The total of ‘Potential Workers’ with 1,806,00 is made up of people who ‘Wanted to work including ‘Unemployed persons’.

    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 2022, 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 2022, there were 1.8 million people who were potential workers. This was 12 per cent of the 15.2 million people in the 'potential labour force' (i.e. those who were either employed or were a potential worker). Of these, 560,700 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 2022 were:

    • Australian Capital Territory - 7.4 per cent.
    • Northern Territory - 7.9 per cent.
    • New South Wales - 8.3 per cent.

    All states and territories saw a fall in potential workers between February 2021 and February 2022. The states or territories with the greatest fall in potential workers to population ratios were:

    • New South Wales - down 2.1 percentage points (from 10.4 per cent to 8.3 per cent).
    • Victoria - down 2.0 points (from 11.0 per cent to 9.0 per cent).
    • Queensland - down 1.7 points (from 10.3 per cent to 8.6 per cent).

    Availability for work

    Not all potential workers are available to start work immediately. Of the 1.8 million people in February 2022 who wanted to work:

    • 1.0 million were available to start work in the previous week.
    • 467,600 were available to start work within four weeks (but not last week).
    • 285,300 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 – 71,200 (25 per cent of those who were not available within four weeks).
        • Own long-term health condition or disability – 55,300 (19 per cent).
        • Studying, or returning to studies – 49,200 (17 per cent).
        • Own short-term health condition or injury – 22,800 (8 per cent).
        • Caring for ill or elderly person/relative – 17,000 (6 per cent).

        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:

        • 45,400 looked for work.
        • 239,900 did not look for work.

         

        There were 745,000 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 were:

        Difficulties finding work

        In February 2022, of the 560,700 unemployed people, 84 per cent reported having difficulty finding work, down from 88 per cent in February 2021.

        The main difficulty for job seekers in February 2022 was 'too many applicants for available jobs'.

        People who don't want to work

        In February 2022, there were 5.5 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 – 3.1 million (55 per cent of people who did not want to work).
        • Ill health or disability – 683,000 (12 per cent).
        • Home duties – 592,800 (11 per cent).
        • Attending educational institution – 470,100 (9 per cent).

        There were 671,400 people who were permanently unable to work.

        Data downloads

        Table 1: Potential workers and discouraged job seekers

        Table 2: Characteristics of discouraged job seekers and other potential workers

        Table 3: Duration since last job and main activity of discouraged job seekers and other potential workers

        Table 4: Main reason for not actively looking for work of persons who wanted to work and were available

        Table 5: Job search experience of unemployed persons

        Table 6: Characteristics of successful and unsuccessful job search experience

        Table 7: Number of job offers while looking for work

        Table 8: Main difficulty and duration of job search of unemployed persons

        Table 9: Main difficulty in finding work by age of unemployed persons

        All tables

        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.