Last month’s pleasant surprise on jobs looks likely to be a one-off.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics will release its estimates of employment and unemployment for March on Thursday.
The previous estimates showed employment surged by 47,300, seasonally adjusted, in February.
That almost single handedly beat the 49,100 gain in employment eked out over the entire year to January.
But there was a catch – the figures were distorted by a routine switch in the sample of households surveyed.
If not for that glitch, the change in employment in February would have been less than 10,000.
There are reasons to expect a gradual improvement in the labour market in the months ahead.
Most indicators of job vacancies suggest things have at least stabilised and most likely begun to improve a little.
But such surveys don’t show how many jobs are being lost – the vacancies might be adding to the total number of jobs, or just offsetting job losses elsewhere.
In any case, with the economy running at below its normal pace, there is no reason to suppose the jump in February was a true indication of what’s actually happening in the jobs market.
Most likely, employment will continue on its former very slight upward trend, albeit from a higher starting point after the likely one-off step up in February.
One indicator of the actual experience of workers and job-seekers comes from the Bureau’s “gross flows” data, showing how people surveyed in successive months have fared.
Changes in the the proportion of people employed in January who end up unemployed in February change slightly from year to year, but still very much in line with the state of the jobs market.
This year, the proportion of people employed in January turning up as unemployed in February was 1.06 per cent.
That was a bit higher than the 1.04 per cent of employed people moving into the unemployed category between January and February last year.
And it was well over the 0.97 per cent average for the January-February interval over the past decade.
In other words, the labour market is not any stronger, and probably a bit weaker, than it was a year ago, and definitely weaker than we’ve been used to, on average, in the past decade.
Another indicator that can be teased out of the gross flows data gives the same signal.
The proportion of people unemployed in January and still unemployed in February this year was 57.4 per cent.
That was higher than each of the preceding 10 years with the exception – just – of the global crisis-affected year of 2009.
Last year it was 53.1 per cent, so the starting point for this year is a weaker jobs market than last year.
Things may have stopped getting worse.
They may have started improving ever so slightly.
But they have a long way to go, and they are not getting there very quickly.