Measuring the labour market impacts of COVID-19

Understanding the impact of the spread of the coronavirus on the labour market – both on people and businesses, as well as the responses to government restrictions and government support packages – will be critical to understanding the evolution of the Australian economy over coming months.

This article provides a summary of the ABS’ existing and new labour market products and the information they provide to understand the impacts of COVID-19.

Labour force statistics

The monthly Labour Force release provides the most reliable and authoritative source of information on the Australian labour market. Collecting data from 25,000 households a month (approximately 50,000 people), this release provides a comprehensive set of information on the labour market activities of people in Australia and how these activities have changed over time. It includes measures of employment and unemployment, underemployment and the hours that people are working.

Labour Force statistics are compiled in line with international standards and have well-established approaches to measuring change in employment arrangements, including those related to government restrictions and government support packages.

March Labour Force data will be released on Thursday 16 April 2020, with data describing the labour market in the first two weeks of March (from 1 to 14 March), and collected between 8 and 28 March. April data, which will be released on Thursday 14 May 2020, will describe the labour market in the first two weeks of April (from 29 March to 11 April), and will be collected between 5 and 25 April.

New COVID-19 labour market products

From 23 March, Australia has seen the progressive introduction of major social distancing and other business-related restrictions to slow the spread of COVID-19. In response to this, the ABS introduced the Business Impacts of COVID-19 Survey, with the most recent data released on 7 April. In addition, two new statistical products – the Household Impacts of COVID-19 Survey and Weekly Payroll Jobs and Wages in Australia – will be released on 20 April and 21 April.

Introducing these new products will provide additional information about the impact of COVID-19 on the labour market, and will avoid the need to make changes to the Labour Force Survey that would adversely affect the comparability of statistics over time and with labour market information for other countries.

The Labour Force Survey is designed to measure changes in key labour market indicators with a high degree of precision. Even small changes to questions or methods can generate measurement error, which would reduce the quality of this core and longstanding labour market information.

It is for this reason that the ABS undertakes major effort in developing, testing and implementing any changes to the Labour Force Survey, and avoids making changes at a time when the labour market is facing a significant shock. In this way, Australia can effectively compare labour market outcomes during COVID-19 with equivalent information for previous months and years to understand impacts, and to effectively measure labour market recovery from COVID-19.

Insights that the three new COVID-19 labour market products will provide

1. Weekly Payroll Jobs and Wages in Australia will provide frequent information on changes in total jobs and total wages paid, for all employing businesses who report through the Single Touch Payroll system to the Australian Taxation Office (approximately 99% of large and medium sized businesses, and around 70% of small businesses).

2. The Business Impacts of COVID-19 Survey will provide information from a sample of around 1,000 businesses, including changes to workforce arrangements, staffing levels and location of work.

3. The Household Impacts of COVID-19 Survey will provide information from a sample of around 1,000 households, including changes in jobs or hours worked related to COVID-19.

Understanding the suite of ABS Labour Statistics

Regular labour statistics releases


Release
Key features

Labour Force (cat. no. 6202.0)Based on a monthly sample of 25,000 households and 50,000 people, with a high proportion of overlapping sample to support quality measures of change over time.

Provides headline measures of people in employment, unemployment, not in the labour force, underemployment, their hours worked, and flows between labour force statuses - all by state, sex and age.

The detailed monthly release (6291.0.55.001) includes further information on hours of work (actual hours and usual hours), reasons for working reduced hours, type of employment, duration of job search, reasons not in the labour force, household characteristics and regional labour markets - all by state, sex and age.

The detailed quarterly release (6291.0.55.003) includes further information on occupation, industry, casual employees, expectations of future employment, job tenure, volume measures of underutilisation (including an hours-based unemployment rate and underemployment rate), retrenchments, reasons left or lost last job - all by state, sex and age.

Job Vacancies (cat. no. 6354.0)Based on a quarterly sample of around 5,000 businesses, with a high proportion of overlapping sample to support quality measures of change over time.

Provides vacancies by sector, state and territory, and industry.

Labour Account (cat. no. 6150.0.55.003)Compiled using data from a broad range of data sources, including Labour Force, business surveys and administrative data. Released shortly after the National Accounts.

Provides the best quarterly estimates across four key “quadrants” of labour market information – jobs, people, hours and labour income. It provides particularly high quality labour market information by industry and sector.

Wage Price Index (cat. no. 6345.0)Based on a quarterly sample of around 18,000 employee jobs (collected from businesses), with a high proportion of overlapping sample to support quality measures of change over time.

Provides index measures, including total hourly rates of pay excluding bonuses, hourly rates of pay including bonuses, ordinary hourly rates of pay excluding bonuses - by state, industry and sector.

Average Weekly Earnings (cat. no. 6302.0)Based on a twice-yearly sample of around 5,000 businesses, conducted in May and November, with a high proportion of overlapping sample to support quality measures of change over time.

Provides average earnings measures, including total earnings, full-time adult earnings, full-time adult ordinary time earnings and full-time adult ordinary time cash earnings - by state, industry, sector and sex.


Each of these regular releases will include additional analysis on the impact of COVID-19.

A range of less frequent statistics also provide insights into people and businesses prior to COVID-19, to understand which parts of the labour market may be most impacted. These are listed in ABS Labour Statistics: A broad range of information.

Additional COVID-19 products


Release
Key features

Weekly Payroll Jobs and Wages in Australia (cat. no. 6160.0.55.001)Based on comprehensive information provided by employing businesses to the Australia Taxation Office through the Single Touch Payroll system (currently 99% of large and medium sized businesses, and around 70% of small businesses).

Provides index measures of changes in total jobs and total wages paid, for businesses reporting through Single Touch Payroll – by industry, state, age and sex.

Business Impacts of COVID-19 Survey (cat. no. 5676.0.55.003)Based on a sample of around 1,000 businesses, designed to produce national level estimates.

Provides high-level insights into COVID-19 impacts on businesses, including changes to workforce arrangements, staffing levels and location of work - by industry and size of business.

Topics will evolve to reflect high priority information needs.

Household Impacts of COVID-19 SurveyBased on a sample of around 1,000 people, using a short set of questions.

Provides high-level insights into COVID-19 impacts on people and households, between Labour Force releases, including on changes in jobs and hours worked. These insights are not directly comparable to Labour Force statistics and are limited to national estimates, and for males and females.

Topics will evolve to reflect high priority information needs.




Where to find information on key topics of interest

Employment
    • Labour Force – headline, detailed monthly and detailed quarterly releases
    • Labour Account

Hours of work
    • Labour Force – headline, detailed monthly and detailed quarterly releases
    • Labour Account

Underemployment and reduced hours
    • Labour Force – headline, detailed monthly and detailed quarterly releases
    • Labour Account
    • Household Impacts of COVID-19 Survey provides some high level insights into reason that hours were reduced

Number of Jobs
    • Labour Account – including filled, vacant and total jobs
    • Job Vacancies

Retrenchments and job loss
    • Labour Force – headline, detailed monthly and detailed quarterly releases
    • Labour Account
    • Weekly Payroll Jobs and Wages in Australia
    • Household Impacts of COVID-19 Survey provides some high level insights into job change
Changes in business actions related to jobs and working arrangements
    • Job Vacancies
    • Business Impacts of COVID-19 Survey

Earnings
    • Wage Price Index
    • Average Weekly Earnings
    • Aggregates from the National Accounts – Compensation of Employees and Average Compensation per Employee
    • Weekly Payroll Jobs and Wages in Australia

Casual employees
    • Labour Force – detailed quarterly release (and the annual Characteristics of Employment provides related earnings information for casual employees)

Industry
    • Labour Account – which contains the best estimates
    • Labour Force – detailed quarterly release
    • Weekly Payroll Jobs and Wages in Australia

Occupation
    • Labour Force – detailed quarterly release

Comparisons for males and females
    • Labour Force – headline, detailed monthly and detailed quarterly releases
    • Weekly Payroll Jobs and Wages in Australia
    • Household Impacts of COVID-19 Survey

Age
    • Labour Force – headline, detailed monthly and detailed quarterly releases
    • Weekly Payroll Jobs and Wages in Australia

State
    • Labour Force – headline, detailed monthly and detailed quarterly releases
    • Weekly Payroll Jobs and Wages in Australia

Regional data
    • Labour Force – detailed monthly and detailed quarterly releases
    • Expected in the future - Weekly Payroll Jobs and Wages in Australia







Back to top of the page