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Worker wellbeing bounces back as job prospects improve

Wednesday 10, Jun 2020

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Worker wellbeing bounces back as job prospects improveAnalysis from the Australian National University (ANU) has revealed that government measures to arrest the economic impact of coronavirus (COVID-19) have helped stop further job losses and declines in working hours. The steadier jobs outlook has also boosted Australian workers’ sense of wellbeing and led to a reduction in anxiety. The analysis builds on a longitudinal ANU survey in April 2020, which showed more than 670,000 Australians had lost their jobs due to the crisis. The analysis shows that since April, there have been no net job losses, with employment sitting at around 58%. Working Australians have also slightly increased the number of hours worked, from 32.3 hours per week in April to 32.8 per week in May. Policies like JobKeeper appear to be helping to arrest the economic impact of COVID-19, and keep Australians employed.

“Compared to many other countries, it would appear that the employment outcomes of Australians have not been as affected as we might otherwise have feared,” said Professor Nicholas Biddle from ANU’s Centre for Social Research and Methods (CSRM) and a co-author of the study. “It shows the extraordinary economic measures taken by the government appear to be helping stem the hit to employment caused by this global pandemic.” However, while job and employment prospects have not worsened over the last month, they also have not improved. Analysis shows that Australians are still less likely to be employed and are working fewer hours than before the COVID-19 pandemic. “It will be a long, hard slog until the Australian labour market fully recovers to its pre-pandemic levels,” Professor Biddle said.

Worker wellbeing and anxiety findings

The ANU survey did reveal that Australians are feeling more secure about their jobs, with one in five Australians (20.6%) expecting to lose their jobs in the next 12 months, compared to almost one in four (24.4%) in April. “The fact that employment outcomes have not continued to worsen appears to have translated into a significantly more positive outlook for the future within the Australian workforce,” Professor Biddle said. In May 2020, 39.2% of Australians assessed the chance of losing their job as being zero. This is a notable increase from April, when 34.6% said the same. Household after-tax weekly income has also slightly improved, increasing from $1622 in April to $1625 in May, with Australians in the lowest household income bracket achieving the greatest percentage gains.

Findings reveal a decline in financial stress, with the overall percentage of households saying they find it difficult to live off their current income reducing, from 22.9% to 20.8% between April and May. Steady economic and employment prospects have also led to gains in Australian workers’ overall wellbeing. “Our analysis shows that as economic conditions have stabilised, Australians’ life satisfaction and outlooks have also improved,” Professor Matthew Gray, another co-author of the study who is also affiliated with CSRM, said. “In January, Australians’ life satisfaction was 6.98 from a scale of 10. This dropped to 6.51 in April but has bounced back to 6.86 in May. Life satisfaction appears to be almost back to what it was prior to the spread of COVID-19 in Australia.”

Overall, Australians are reporting less worry about the pandemic, with 57.4% saying they were worried or anxious as a consequence of COVID-19 — falling from 66.4% in April. The survey revealed that 18- to 24-year-olds still feel the most anxious about COVID-19, with 76.7% feeling this way in April and 65.1% in May. “This isn’t surprising, as thousands of young Australians have lost jobs and incomes during this pandemic,” Professor Gray said about the findings of this particular cohort. “Sadly, the full economic cost of this crisis will be felt by this group for many years to come.”

The survey is part of CSRM’s COVID-19 impact monitoring program, which analyses the views of more than 3200 Australians. A copy of the latest report, titled ‘Tracking outcomes during the COVID-19 pandemic (May 2020) — job and income losses halted and confidence rising’, is available here.

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