By June 2020, as the overall unemployment rate hit 7.4%, the youth unemployment rate spiked to 16.4%, with a further 19.7% underemployed (working fewer hours than they wanted).
As of February the overall unemployment rate had fallen to 5.8%, compared with 5.1% in February 2020. The youth unemployment rate meanwhile was 12.9%, compared with 11.5% the year before, and a further 16% were underemployed.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has enthused about there now being “more jobs in the Australian economy than there were before the pandemic”. But that’s true only for those 25 and older: 77,600 more are employed than before the crisis. For those aged 24 and under, 74,100 fewer have jobs.
So clearly the pandemic has hit younger workers the hardest. The reasons for disproportionate impact aren’t complicated. Young people are more likely to work in casual jobs – the first to be excised in hard economic times – and in those sectors most affected by border closures, lockdowns and other measures – retail, hospitality, tourism.
Yet the federal government’s policy responses, injecting billions of dollars into the economy to support businesses and employment, have compounded this impact through deliberate yet flawed policy design.
JobKeeper has kept proportionally fewer young people in jobs. Changes allowing withdrawal of superannuation will hurt them more in the longer term. And JobMaker, the program designed specifically to encourage employment of younger workers, has proven a monumental flop.
Shut out of JobKeeper
The centrepiece of the federal government’s support measures was the A$100 billion JobKeeper program, initially paying a subsidy of $750 a week before tapering and finally being axed at the end of March.
The Reserve Bank of Australia estimates JobKeeper payments kept at least 700,000 workers off the dole queue. But to qualify, employees had to have been working for their employer for a minimum of 12 months.
This disproportionately excluded younger workers – being more likely to be recent workforce entrants, to switch jobs more than older workers, and to be in employed in casual or other forms of insecure work.Dan Peled/AAP
Of those employed casually, 26.4% of young people had been with their employer for less than 12 months, compared to 6.5% of those aged 25 and over. So one in four young people employed casually were not eligible for JobKeeper, compared with only one in 16 of their older counterparts.
Drawing down superannuation
JobKeeper’s design thus pushed proportionally more younger workers on to the dole queue. It also likely contributed to more of them dipping into their superannuation savings under the provisions announced by the federal government in March 2020.
Those provisions allowed Australians affected by the economic crisis to withdraw up to $20,000 from their superannuation accounts (in two rounds of $10,000 each – one last financial year, another this financial year).
But it means many will have considerably less super to retire on. The long-term cost of a 25 year-old withdrawing $20,000 is more than $100,000, compared with about $37,000 for a 50-year-old, according to estimates by financial comparison site Canstar.
Spend now, lose later
- ^ 332,200 (www.abs.gov.au)
- ^ The successor to JobKeeper can't do its job. There's an urgent need for JobMaker II (theconversation.com)
- ^ deliberate yet flawed policy design (onlinelibrary.wiley.com)
- ^ Reserve Bank of Australia (rba.gov.au)
- ^ switch jobs (treasury.gov.au)
- ^ from August 2019 (www.aph.gov.au)
- ^ The budget promises jobs, but does little for workers in the gig economy (theconversation.com)
- ^ federal government in March 2020 (ministers.treasury.gov.au)
- ^ 395,000 people under 35 (www.theguardian.com)
- ^ by age 30 (www.amp.com.au)
- ^ according to estimates (www.canstar.com.au)
- ^ Canstar (www.canstar.com.au)
- ^ CC BY-NC (creativecommons.org)
- ^ credit-scoring company Illion (www.illion.com.au)
- ^ ratting their own savings (www.theguardian.com)
- ^ The economy can't guarantee a job. It can guarantee a liveable income for other work (theconversation.com)
- ^ job seekers aged 16 to35 (www.ato.gov.au)
- ^ 609 hires (www.theguardian.com)
- ^ scarring (www.jstor.org)
- ^ the COVID crisis (www.csi.edu.au)
Authors: Kathryn Daley, Senior Lecturer & Program Manager - Youth Work and Youth Studies. School of Global, Urban and Social Studies, RMIT University, RMIT University