Australia’s unemployment rate has fallen slightly to 4.9 per cent, marking the first time it has dropped below five per cent since 2011.
But the pace at which the jobs market is tightening appears to have slowed down, with the 4600 new jobs created in February well below a monthly average increase of 48,000 over the past six months.
Jobs Minister Kelly O’Dwyer says the latest data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics on Thursday shows the jobs market is in great health.
“It is, I think, tremendous that the unemployment rate now has a four in front of it, rather than a five,” she told reporters in Melbourne.
But Labor leader Bill Shorten says there is more to the story than the headline figures, with many people in short-term and casual positions and struggling to cope with slow wages growth.
“We’ve got a lot of Australians who are working two jobs just to make ends meet,” he told reporters in Perth.
The unemployment rate fell by 0.1 percentage points in February, on seasonally adjusted terms, to reach its eight-year low of 4.9 per cent.
An 11,900 spike in part-time jobs drove the improvement, with the number of people in full-time work falling by 7300 in the month.
That is the third time the number of full-time jobs has dropped in four months.
Asked whether she is concerned about the trend, Ms O’Dwyer pointed to the bigger picture, noting the majority of the 280,000 new positions created in the past 12 months have been full-time.
The participation rate decreased by 0.2 percentage points to 65.6 per cent, but the jobs minister stressed it remains at “near record highs”.
Economists had expected the unemployment rate to remain at 5.0 per cent, with the Australian dollar ticking up after the data’s release.