Employment and hours worked have remained steady, despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the scaling back of JobSeeker, new analysis from The Australian National University (ANU) shows.
The survey of more than 3,500 adult Australians, led by the ANU Centre for Social Research and Methods (CSRM), found employment stayed at around 60 per cent of the population between January and April 2021.
“However, the real story here is that there hasn’t been a dramatic decline in employment either,” study co-author and CSRM Director Professor Matthew Gray said.
“This is even more impressive, given our findings cover the period immediately following the cessation of the JobKeeper scheme and the JobSeeker supplement.
“This is good news for many Australians, the economy and our economic activity, particularly as we look to rebuild in the wake of the COVID recession.”
The study shows average hours worked were the same in April 2021 as November 2020 – 20.6 hours per week.
However, this is still well below what they were in February 2020, when average hours worked per week were 21.9.
The longitudinal study, which has been tracking the impact of COVID-19 in Australia since April 2020, shows the lowest level of average weekly hours worked came in May last year, when they sat at 18.5 hours per adult. They have steadily increased since then, except in January 2021 during the holiday period.
The study also shows employment is still slightly below the 62 per cent of Australians employed when asked in February 2020, but it is well above the 57.1 per cent observed in May 2020.
“Australia has had a remarkable recovery from many of the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Professor Gray said.
“While unemployment increased substantially and GDP declined during the early months of the pandemic in Australia, much of the losses in employment and economic production seem to have been recovered by early 2021.”
The study also found a long-term reduction in housing stress, with more Australians saying they were keeping up with rent and mortgage payments compared to 2017 – with 46.1 per cent now saying they were “keeping up without any difficulty” compared to 39.3 per cent four years ago.
The proportion of Australians who say that it is a constant struggle or who are falling behind with payments has also declined over the same period – 20.7 per cent in March 2017 compared to 17.8 per cent in April 2021.
Australians are also less worried and anxious, co-author Professor Nicholas Biddle said.
“We found Australians are becoming less anxious and worried about the COVID-19 pandemic, and are also far less likely to think they will be infected in the next six months,” he said.
“The level of life satisfaction — measured on a scale of zero to 10 — was very similar in April 2021 as in January 2021; 6.95 and 6.87 respectively.
“And there has been a continued decline in psychological distress, with a consequent improvement in mental health outcomes between January 2021 and April 2021.
“Average psychological distress is now lower than it was before the pandemic.
“This is also very good news, considering the pandemic and its related social, economic and psychological impacts, has now entered its second year.
“That being said, young Australians are still very vulnerable. We found they continue to have worse mental health outcomes than prior to the pandemic, and compared to older Australians.”
The study forms part of the ANU Centre for Social Research Methods ongoing COVID-19 monitoring program with data collected by the Social Research Centre.
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