The truth about jobs

March 8, 2019

Words: Josh Fanning

Data analysis: Nicholas Warnock

Jobs are the perennial election issue, and as Australia gears up for the next federal election, we thought it would be useful to investigate the stats rather than heed politicians’ statements. These graphs are produced from ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) data and describe trends in the jobs market over the past three decades. Each graph is interactive – hover over graph lines with your mouse (touch with your finger) to isolate each industry and make the trends easier to read.




The downward trend in manufacturing (blue line) resonates with the doom and gloom attitude we’ve had towards the sector here in South Australia for the past few years. Steep and consistent falls in full-time employment in the sector throughout the late 2000s coincide with the narrative of the Holden closure. What we did find interesting though was the huge capacity this state has in manufacturing in general, and the potential this workforce has in light of recent GFG Alliance and Sonnen announcements. There was a huge upward spike this quarter (up from 56,540 last quarter) to 65,800 full-time jobs in the sector. Looking at the long-term trend of the data you might expect this spike to be unsustainable but it could just as easily speak to the confidence around Defence spending and private investment by companies similar to those already mentioned.

Health care
The story of work in South Australia is really the tale of these two industries: manufacturing and health care (red line on graph). This sector has been the steady riser since the year 2000 and – had it not been for the steep jump in manufacturing last quarter – would be our state’s number one employer of people on a full-time basis.

Everything else
There’re a lot of messy lines we could place on this graph to measure the exact numbers of most industries but the truth is they’re boring (we greyed out a lot of lines to assist in reading the data). Most industries have been flat for employment numbers across the decades. What is interesting to note though is that total numbers of full-time employees in many sectors could be comfortably contained within the Adelaide Oval.



More than meets the eye
In the case of each of these simple graphs we are fascinated by the possibilities behind what the numbers mean and the trends they describe over recent history. In an increasingly short news cycle we need to be asking for stats from our leaders rather than statements. It’s not politicians’ fault alone that we get such superficial soundbites on matters that should deeply concern us. It’s time for us to grow up as a nation and start using the power of data to inform a deeper discussion. These graphs are simple but they tell the much more complicated story of what South Australians are doing to make ends meet.

What’s the story
While health care and manufacturing duke it out in our full-time employer stakes, manufacturing is almost nowhere to be seen in the list of part-time employers by industry. In fact, we had to go digging to highlight it. By contrast, healthcare is easy to spot at the top of the graphs of both – proving it is the predominant industry in our state (hello ageing population?) 60,070 people work in health care on a part-time basis in South Australia, and you’d be safe betting on this number increasing.

The top four industries for part-time employment in SA outside of healthcare are reasonably traditional, with retail trade (orange line on graph) coming in second with 47,350 part-time employees. CityMag’s beloved food and beverage sector is combined with accommodation (funny that) and has really pushed up steadily since as far back as 1994, though a steep climb last year seems to correlate with the thousands (exaggerating) of new bars, cafés and restaurants we wrote about last year.



The difference
We find this graph particularly illustrative of the real trend in employment in South Australia. The two lines on this chart demonstrate the real disparity in part-time versus full-time work. Handily our data analyst has indexed both to their 2008 values (so that 2008 = 1 for each of them). This helps show relative changes nicely on the same scale. Rather than having politicians hit us over the head with “jobs” and “growth,” why don’t we investigate the growth of jobs, so we might get a better idea of how the economy is changing?

It was relatively straightforward to discover the information for this graph thanks to the invaluable service of the ABS. What these two lines don’t describe though is whether the trend towards more part-time work is positive, negative, or ambivalent. Perhaps the growth in part-time work represents the shift (and we’re generalising here) of mothers into the work force? Perhaps the cause relates to people shifting down a gear and transitioning from full-time to part-time work before retirement and also working later in life?

Here at CityMag we’re interested and concerned by the emergent ‘Gig Economy’ and would love to know whether the growth in part time employment is the new normal. The trend over the last decade (and further) would certainly suggest so.



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