UNEMPLOYMENT r e mained low in February, but the latest labour force figures appear to confirm the trend in employment growth has slowed markedly.
The unemployment rate stayed at 5.0 per cent, according to the seasonally adjusted estimates released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics ( ABS) yesterday.
However, the number of people with jobs fell by 10,100, or 0.1 per cent, leaving a net loss of employment of 2200 since the 54,200 surge reported for November.
The bureau’s estimate of the trend in employment has now slowed to 9100 per month in February from a recent peak of 38,000 just six months earlier.
The accompanying estimates of aggregate hours worked told a similar story. There was a 1.1 per cent rise in February, following no change in November and falls - most likely flood-affected - of 0.2 per cent in December and 0.8 per cent in January.
As a result, the number of hours worked in February was only marginally above the October total and the estimated trend is now flat, a marked changed from the annualised trend growth rate of four per cent in the middle of 2010.
The seasonally adjusted fall in employment in February was offset by a drop in the recorded rate of participation in the labour force, to 65.7 per cent of the working-age population from 65.8 per cent in January. There was also a big rise in full-time employment ( 47,600) as part-time employment fell even more sharply ( 57,700), although such short term swings are generally not helpful in assessing underlying trends - they are more likely to be the effect of irregular seasonal fluctuations not caught by the adjustment process.
The employment figures add to the already-strong case for the Reserve Bank of Australia to put any thoughts of a near-term interest rate rise on ice.