Image for JOBS: The outlook is gloomier than it has been for a long time. Charities under pressure

*Pic: The buck stops here ... Premier Will Hodgman (left) and Treasurer Peter Gutwein.

Tasmania’s economic recovery appears to have gone into reverse, with the latest unemployment figures showing a further loss of jobs and, once again, the highest unemployment rate in the country.

The recovery in job numbers peaked in December last year, when in trend terms the number of people in full or part-time work reached 241,000. But it has fallen every month since, and stood at 239,000 in April.

That means a loss of 2,000 jobs in four months.

The seasonally-adjusted figures ‒ which are more useful in looking at shorter-term trends ‒ are even worse. These fell from 243,500 last October to 238,500 last month. That’s a fall of 5000.

The net loss has mostly been in part-time jobs and is evenly spread between men and women. This may indicate employers are sacking casual and part-time staff as their businesses wind down. If the trend continues they can be expected to start sacking full-time employees in greater numbers.

In trend terms the unemployment rate rose only marginally, from 6.8% to 6.9%. But trend figures, based on rolling averages to iron out volatility, have yet to reflect the decline.

The seasonally-adjusted figures show Tasmanian unemployment is now the worst in the nation, rising from 6.6% in March to 7.3% in April.

Ahead even of South Australia ...

This is ahead even of South Australia, which is on 7.1%. The national average is 6.2%, up only 0.1% from the previous month,

The latest figures on the unemployment rate must be treated with some caution. The Bureau of Statistics sample in Tasmania is comparatively small, and month-by-month figures are often volatile.

But the downward trend in job numbers is now well-established. Because employment is perhaps the most significant of all economic indicators, it has major implications for the state’s economy and for government fiscal policy.

In times of economic downturn, it is usually wise for governments to increase their own spending to stimulate the economy and, directly and indirectly, to create jobs. But both state and federal governments have been doing the reverse ‒ cutting spending and sacking public servants.

The Tasmanian economy hit bottom in the middle of 2013, about nine months before the change of government. It then began growing strongly, though the recovery has been visibly slowing in the past several months. It has also been patchy, with some sectors such as construction doing well and others doing poorly.

Interestingly, the stand-out sector ‒ building and construction ‒ owes much of its buoyancy to government intervention in public works and the first-home owners’ grant.

It may be too early to pronounce the end of the recovery. More data is needed before we can make that call.

But we can say that the outlook is gloomier than it has been for a long time.

Peter Gutwein: Employment figures

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