The Hunter Business Chamber (HBC) has warned improvements in regional unemployment levels could be short-lived with JobKeeper due to end this weekend.
Labour force data for February, released during the week by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), provided a bit of optimism for the region.
It highlighted a continued step-up in Hunter figures, with the overall unemployment rate dropping from 7.6% to 4.3% in the Newcastle and Lake Macquarie statistical area, and a more modest fall of 0.1% to 3.5% in the remainder of the Hunter Valley.
However, with Sunday’s termination of JobKeeper predicted to bring anywhere between 100,000 and 250,000 job losses nationally, HBC CEO Bob Hawes said the employment outlook remained unpredictable.
“We hope that the impact of JobKeeper ending is minimal and that most businesses in our area are now in a position to transition off the scheme, if they haven’t already,” he stated.
“But, the reality is the loss of the subsidy will put a financial squeeze on those that are still recovering from COVID-19 and reducing their payroll may be the only way for them to stay afloat.
“Some of those businesses may also be contending with deferred rent or loan payments falling due, putting added pressure on their operating budgets.”
Mr Hawes said the labour force figures showed some positive indications of improved business conditions, including a significant increase in full-time jobs in Newcastle and Lake Macquarie, with about 8,000 positions created in February.
“The fact that businesses are looking to put on full-time workers or convert existing employees to full-time positions suggests a level of confidence that will hopefully withstand the end of JobKeeper,” he added.
According to the ABS, youth unemployment in Newcastle and Lake Macquarie dropped from 20.6% to 5.8% based on the raw data and rose from 6.7% to 9.7% in the Hunter Valley – although the monthly regional youth figures are typically unreliable, due to sample size.
An annual average suggests youth unemployment is still tracking highly in the region, with figures of 19.5% (Newcastle and Lake Macquarie) and 14.6% (Hunter Valley), compared with a state-wide rate of 14.1%.