Working Australians, on average, lost 167 hours of work worth more than $5,000 each and $47 billion to the economy from the start of March to the end of October due to COVID-19, new research shows.

Researchers at The Australian National University (ANU) have tallied the total loss in working hours and productivity cost for the first time. The analysis is based on their longitudinal study running since February and before the spread of COVID-19 in Australia.

Study co-lead, Professor Nicholas Biddle, said the total number of average hours worked by individuals between February and October was 692.

“That’s down from an expected 760 hours if everyone kept on working at their February levels,” Professor Biddle said.

The lost work hours were also pricey – with many Australians foregoing vital potential income. The researchers say some of that income would have been paid to the individuals through JobKeeper, but the loss of production is still lost to the economy as a whole.

“On average, the total loss in production per employed Australia was worth $5,885 between February and October, or $2,379 per adult if we count non-employed workers.

“This gives a total estimated loss of production equal to around $47 billion or 1.3 billion hours due to the COVID-Recession.”

The analysis shows weekly work hours dropped for both males and females between February and April, with a steady uptick since then. However, work hours for both males and females have not recuperated to February levels.

Average hours worked for all females fell from 18.8 in February to 16.1 in April. They sit at 18.2 hours in October.

For males, average hours worked declined from 25.0 in February to 21.5 in April. They currently sit at 22.7.

“Over the entire period, the total loss in hours worked was greater for males (an average of 95 hours) than for females (38.5 hours),” study co-author Professor Matthew Gray said.

“It is true that in relative terms the difference is not as large, as males worked more hours on average at the start of the period. But, males are still estimated to have lost a greater proportion of expected hours (10.8 per cent) compared to females (6.1 per cent).”

The greatest loss of working hours was for Australian workers who completed Year 12, but do not have a university degree.

“We also found workers who did not complete Year 12 lost fewer hours than other workers,” Professor Biddle said.

“And workers born overseas in a non-English speaking country lost a substantially larger number of work hours (104) than an otherwise equivalent Australian-born worker.”

The study forms part of the ANU Centre for Social Research and Methods’ COVID-19 monitoring program and is available online.

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