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Australian unemployment drops to 8.2% in January as the Omicron variant caused millions of Australians to miss work

This Roy Morgan survey on Australia’s unemployment and ‘under-employed’* is based on weekly interviews of 808,127 Australians aged 14 and over between January 2007 and January 2022 and includes 6,057 telephone and online interviews in December 2021. *The ‘under-employed’ are those people who are in part-time work or freelancers who are looking for more work.
The latest Roy Morgan employment series data shows 1.2 million Australians were unemployed in January, down 51,000 on December (8.2% of the workforce), and a further 1.23 million Australians (8.4% of the workforce) were under-employed, down 198,000 (down 1.4% points).

  • Workforce dropped by 133,000 in January as Omicron variant kept people out of work:

The workforce in January was 14,580,000 (down 133,000 from December) – comprised of 13,379,000 employed Australians (down 82,000) and 1,201,000 unemployed Australians looking for work (down 51,000). The contractions in those both employed and unemployed in January is no surprise given the millions of Australians forced to isolate during the month due to either being infected with Omicron or being a close contact of a confirmed case.

  • Employment in January was just below its record high reached in December:

Australian employment fell by 82,000 to 13,379,000 in January with full-time employment decreasing by 52,000 to 8,765,000, and part-time employment down by 30,000 4,614,000 as the highly contagious Omicron variant played havoc with Australia’s employment markets during the month.

  • Unemployment dropped in January to its lowest since before the pandemic began:

1,201,000 Australians were unemployed (8.2% of the workforce), down 51,000 from December with fewer people looking for full-time work (down 93,000 to 464,000) although there was an increase in those looking for part-time work, up 42,000 to 737,000.

Roy Morgan Unemployment & Under-employment (2019-2022)

Source: Roy Morgan Single Source January 2019 – January 2022. Average monthly interviews 5,000.
Note: Roy Morgan unemployment estimates are actual data while the ABS estimates are seasonally adjusted.

Roy Morgan’s unemployment figure of 8.2% for January is 4% points higher than the ABS estimate for December 2021 of 4.2%. However, the ABS figure for December counts as employed an additional 38,700 Australians who were working zero hours for ‘economic reasons’ and 46,300 Australians who were working zero hours for ‘other reasons’ – such as being forced out of work by mandatory lockdowns or forced isolation due to catching COVID-19 or being a close contact of a confirmed case.

If these 85,000 non-workers are added back the ABS unemployment estimate for December increases to 659,000 (4.8%). The ABS also claims there are 918,000 Australians (6.6%) under-employed for a total of over 1.5 million unemployed or under-employed (11.4% of the workforce) – an estimate which is still way under the latest Roy Morgan unemployment and under-employment estimate of 18.2%.

  • Under-employment dropped in January as millions of Australians were forced to isolate

In addition to those who were unemployed, 1.23 million Australians (8.4% of the workforce) were under-employed – working part-time but looking for more work, a decrease of 198,000 (down 1.3% points) from December. In total 2.43 million Australians (16.6% of the workforce) were either unemployed or under-employed in January, a decrease of 249,000 on December.

Compared to early March 2020, before the nation-wide lockdown, in January 2022 there were over 250,000 more Australians either unemployed or under-employed (+1% point) even though overall employment (13,379,000) is now over 500,000 higher than it was pre-COVID-19 (12,872,000).

Michele Levine, CEO Roy Morgan, says the surge in the Omicron strain of COVID-19 in January caused havoc for Australia’s employment markets with millions of Australians forced into isolation during the month:

“The latest Roy Morgan employment estimates for January show unemployment down 0.3% points to 8.2% and under-employment down 1.3% points to 8.4%. The good news is that unemployment is now at its lowest since the pandemic began in March 2020.

“However, although the drop in unemployment is good news, the Omicron strain of COVID-19 also led to declines across the board during January. As well as a decline in unemployment there were also a significant decline in employment, down 82,000 to 13,379,000. This decline was broad-based with full-time employment down 52,000 to 8,765,000 and part-time employment down 30,000 to 4,614,000.

“The highly infectious nature of the Omicron strain led to over 2 million Australians contracting COVID-19 during the month of January. However, this infectiousness of Omicron also means the spread of the virus peaked in mid-January and has since declined rapidly over the last few weeks.

“Looking forward Capital City CBDs should see more people returning to work in the office as the threat of catching COVID-19 recedes over the next few months. The roll-out of the COVID-19 booster program is also continuing with around 50% of Australians now having received their vaccination ‘booster shot’.

“These trends suggest that employment growth in Australia should resume and with 1.2 million Australians unemployed (8.2% of the workforce) and 1.23 million under-employed (8.4% of the workforce) there are over 2.4 million Australians currently looking for work or looking for more work.

“This high level of under-utilised labour is a big part of the reason wage growth in Australia has remained subdued over the last few years and continues to remain well below that seen overseas in countries such as the USA and UK. The latest ABS Wage Price Index shows annual wage growth of 2.2% in Australia is less than half the wage growth seen in the UK of 4.2% (Office of National Statistics) or the USA of 4.5% (Bureau of Labor Statistics).

“To increase wage growth in the Australian economy jobs and improved employment opportunities must be found for the over 2.4 million people either unemployed or under-employed. The Australian economy has now experienced a high level of labour under-utilisation for several years and it’s over six years since fewer than 2 million Australians were unemployed or under-employed (1.99 million in September 2015).

Roy Morgan Unemployed and ‘Under-employed’* Estimates

Unemployed or

‘Under-employed’*

Unemployed

Unemployed looking for

‘Under-employed’*

Full-time

Part-time

2021

‘000

%

‘000

%

‘000

‘000

‘000

%

Jan-Mar 2021

2,971

20.6

1,750

12.1

717

1,033

1,222

8.5

Apr-Jun 2021

2,688

18.3

1,398

9.5

574

824

1,290

8.8

Jul-Sep 2021

2,573

17.7

1,350

9.3

547

803

1,224

8.4

Oct-Dec 2021

2,586

17.8

1,301

9.0

537

764

1,286

8.9

Months

December 2020

3,081

21.4

1,724

12.0

797

927

1,357

9.4

January 2021

3,118

21.7

1,680

11.7

692

988

1,438

10.0

February 2021

3,068

21.0

1,930

13.2

790

1,140

1,138

7.8

March 2021

2,728

19.0

1,639

11.4

668

971

1,089

7.6

April 2021

2,664

18.3

1,307

9.0

593

714

1,357

9.3

May 2021

2,749

18.9

1,493

10.3

558

935

1,256

8.6

June 2021

2,651

17.9

1,394

9.4

570

824

1,257

8.5

July 2021

2,756

18.8

1,422

9.7

619

803

1,334

9.1

August 2021

2,537

17.7

1,362

9.5

492

870

1,175

8.2

September 2021

2,428

16.7

1,265

8.7

530

735

1,163

8.0

October 2021

2,547

17.8

1,320

9.2

471

849

1,227

8.6

November 2021

2,536

17.5

1,330

9.2

583

748

1,206

8.3

December 2021

2,676

18.2

1,252

8.5

557

695

1,424

9.7

January 2022

2,427

16.6

1,201

8.2

464

737

1,226

8.4

*Workforce includes those employed and those looking for work – the unemployed.

This Roy Morgan survey on Australia’s unemployment and ‘under-employed’* is based on weekly interviews of 808,127 Australians aged 14 and over between January 2007 and January 2022 and includes 6,057 telephone and online interviews in December 2021. *The ‘under-employed’ are those people who are in part-time work or freelancers who are looking for more work.

Contact Roy Morgan to learn more about Australia’s unemployed and under-employed; who and where they are, and the challenges they face as they search for employment opportunities.

Visit the Roy Morgan Online Store to purchase employment profiles, including for Australians who are employed, unemployed, under-employed, employed part-time, employed full-time, retired, studying and many more.

Roy Morgan Research cf. ABS Unemployment Estimates


Source: Roy Morgan Single Source October 2006 – January 2022. Average monthly interviews 4,000.
Note: Roy Morgan unemployment estimates are actual data while the ABS estimates are seasonally adjusted.


Source: Roy Morgan Single Source January 2000 – January 2022. Average monthly interviews 4,000.
Note: Roy Morgan unemployment estimates are actual data while the ABS estimates are seasonally adjusted.


Source: Roy Morgan Single Source April 1995 – December 2021. Average monthly interviews 4,000.
Note: Roy Morgan unemployment estimates are actual data while the ABS estimates are seasonally adjusted.

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About Roy Morgan

Roy Morgan is the largest independent Australian research company, with offices throughout Australia, as well as in Indonesia, the United States and the United Kingdom. A full service research organisation specialising in omnibus and syndicated data, Roy Morgan has over 70 years’ experience in collecting objective, independent information on consumers.

Margin of Error

The margin of error to be allowed for in any estimate depends mainly on the number of interviews on which it is based. Margin of error gives indications of the likely range within which estimates would be 95% likely to fall, expressed as the number of percentage points above or below the actual estimate. Allowance for design effects (such as stratification and weighting) should be made as appropriate.

Sample Size

Percentage Estimate

40%-60%

25% or 75%

10% or 90%

5% or 95%

1,000

±3.0

±2.7

±1.9

±1.3

5,000

±1.4

±1.2

±0.8

±0.6

7,500

±1.1

±1.0

±0.7

±0.5

10,000

±1.0

±0.9

±0.6

±0.4

20,000

±0.7

±0.6

±0.4

±0.3

50,000

±0.4

±0.4

±0.3

±0.2