A strange thing has been happening in Western Australia ever since many predicted a crash for WA’s job market in the post-mining and resources boom era and focused on what was happening on the east coast.
With Australia’s unemployment rate continuing to show its unpredictability for March by dropping to 5.7 per cent despite analyst predictions, the biggest improvements were in the west where the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for Western Australia fell from six per cent to 5.5 per cent. This result is all the more remarkable given the participation rate at 68.1 per cent is considerably higher than the national average of 64.9 per cent.
So with commodity prices still falling and the mining and resources sector still shedding jobs, what has driven this dramatic turnaround? Like the bigger employment states of New South Wales and Victoria, the investment in infrastructure by the WA government and by business in order to create jobs is now starting to have an impact with future job prospects in the construction sector looking rosier.
The WA construction sector is the second-largest employer in the state, and with an investment of over 24 billion dollars over the next four years, projects like the new Perth Stadium, Perth Childrens Hospital, Eastern Goldfields Regional Prison, Elizabeth Quay, the new WA Museum and over a dozen more are expected to generate 67,000 jobs for the construction sector and the WA economy over the next eight years. This is despite the prediction by economists that the general WA job market is expected to continue to decline through most of this year.
Whilst this is good news for the Western Australian economy, South Australia continues to to be hit by jobs uncertainty with its unemployment rate the highest in the land at 7.2 per cent. The state is still trying to recover from the withdrawal of the vehicle manufacturing industry and continues to see job seeker confidence hit with the ongoing uncertainty around the Arrium Steelworks. Job hopes are still pinned to a pending announcement by the federal government around the submarine contract. Elsewhere, NSW continues to hold up as Australia's strongest job state with its unemployment remaining steady at 5.3 per cent. In Tasmania, unemployment dropped slightly to 6.8 per cent and in Victoria it fell to 5.7 per cent, whilst Queensland was the only state to see its unemployment rate rise (from 5.6 per cent to 6.1 per cent.)
Before we get too excited about our unemployment rates, however, we need to look deeper at the quality of jobs the economy is creating with the overall figures showing a gain of 34,000 part time jobs and an overall loss of 8,800 full time jobs. And with a decline in the numbers of hours worked in March as well, questions have to be asked about the number of people who are underemployed and are not getting as much work as they want or need. A challenge for an on-demand economy which utilises labour on demand.