You are here:

2.07 Employment

Why is it important?

Participation in employment has important consequences for health, social and emotional wellbeing and living standards for individuals, families and communities (Bambra 2011). Conversely, being sick or disabled, or looking after someone in poor health acts as a barrier to labour-force participation (Belachew et al. 2014). In addition to poor health outcomes, reasons for Indigenous Australians having lower employment rates include lower levels of education and training, higher levels of contact with the criminal justice system, experiences of discrimination and lower levels of job retention (Gray et al. 2012).

The labour force comprises all people contributing to, or willing to contribute to, the supply of labour. This includes the employed (people who have worked for at least 1 hour in the reference week) and the unemployed (people who are without work, but have actively looked for work in the last four weeks and are available to start work). The remainder of the population is not in the labour force. The labour force participation rate is the number of people in the labour force as a proportion of the working age population (15–64 years). The unemployment rate is the number of unemployed people as a proportion of the labour force. The employment to population ratio, also referred to as the employment rate, is employed people as a proportion of the population aged 15–64 years.

Findings

Over the last twenty years there has been a significant increase in Indigenous employment; however, since 2008 this gain has fallen and the gap with non-Indigenous employment has widened. In 1994, 38% of the Indigenous working age population were employed (SCRGSP 2014a). This increased to a peak of 54% in 2008 and then fell to 48% in 2012–13. Between 2008 and 2012–13 there has been an increase of 6.9 percentage points in the employment gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous working age people (up from 21.2 to 28.1 percentage points). The Indigenous unemployment rate is currently 21%, an increase of 4.3 percentage points since 2008, and is 4 times the current non-Indigenous unemployment rate of 5%. The employment rate was higher for Indigenous males (53%) compared with Indigenous females (42%). Both rates have fallen since 2008 with males falling by 9.9 percentage points and female employment falling by 3.2 percentage points. There was a decrease in employment for males in the 15–17 year old age group (from 36% in 2008 to 17% in 2012–13) (SCRGSP 2014a). In 2012–13, 40% of Indigenous youth aged 17–24 years were fully engaged in study or work, about half the non-Indigenous rate (76%). Rates of Indigenous youth fully engaged ranged from 48% in major cities to 16% in very remote areas. The employment gap has also increased since 2008 in each state and territory. The greatest increase in the gap was in WA at 13 percentage points, with a current gap of 32.8 percentage points. The highest overall gap was in the NT (40.5 percentage points).

In 2012–13, major cities and inner regional areas had the highest employment rates for Indigenous Australians (50%) while very remote areas had the lowest employment rate at 42%. Very remote areas also recorded the largest fall in employment since 2008 (12 percentage points). However, these rates include Community Development Employment Program (CDEP) participants (phased out since 2008). In 2008, CDEP employment accounted for almost half of all employment in very remote areas, but by 2012–13 it accounted for just over one quarter of total employment. Given this significant change it is more appropriate to look at non-CDEP (mainstream) employment. The Indigenous mainstream employment rate in remote and very remote combined was 33% in 2008 and 35% in 2012–13. The Indigenous mainstream employment rate in the major cities fell from 59% in 2008 to 50% in 2012–13.

In 2012–13, 60% of Indigenous Australians aged 15–64 years were in the labour force. This was made up of 48% employed and 13% unemployed. Data for non-Indigenous Australians is available from the 2012 Survey of Education and Work. In 2012, 80% of non-Indigenous people of working age were in the labour force. This was made up of 76% employed and 4% unemployed. After controlling for education levels, geographic dispersion and self-assessed health status the gap in labour force participation rates between Indigenous Australians and non-Indigenous Australians drops by two-thirds, from 19.9 to 6.3 percentage points (ABS 2014k).

Studies of the social gradient of health demonstrate that characteristics of employment such as occupation, job security and control affect health outcomes (Marmot et al. 2010). Non-Indigenous employed persons are more likely to work as professionals (22%) than Indigenous employees (13%), while Indigenous Australians are more likely to work as labourers (18%) or as community and personal service workers (17%). There was an increase in the proportion of employed Indigenous Australians working as professionals/ managers between 2001 and 2011 (16% to 19%). Between 2002 and 2012–13 there has been an increase in the proportion of employed Indigenous Australians who are employed full-time (54% to 65%) (SCRGSP 2014a). Long-term unemployment was higher for Indigenous Australians living in remote areas (42% of unemployed persons) compared with those living in non-remote areas (29% of unemployed persons). Over the last decade the proportion of the Indigenous labour force in long-term unemployment has remained stable.

In 2012–13 Indigenous Australians were 3 times as likely to report a family stressor of not being able to get a job (23%) compared with non-Indigenous Australians (8%). This stressor was higher for Indigenous Australian males, particularly those aged 25–34 years (30%). In 2011 the unemployment rate for Indigenous Australians who provided unpaid assistance to a person with a disability (21%) was more than 3 times that for non-Indigenous carers (6%).

Implications

To achieve the COAG target to halve the gap in employment, the gap would need to shrink to 10.6 percentage points by 2018. However, between 2008 and 2012–13 the gap has widened meaning this target is not currently on track.The Australian Government is currently considering the recommendations made by the Forrest Review, Creating Parity, which was commissioned with the intent of creating innovative and effective measures to address the gap in employment outcomes.

Under the Indigenous Advancement Strategy, the Australian Government has allocated $2.5 billion over four years to the Jobs, Land and Economy Programme. This programme supports adults into work, fosters Indigenous businesses and assists Indigenous Australians generate economic and social benefits from effective use of their land. During 2014, 24 Vocational Training and Employment Centres were established and over 4,500 jobs were committed by employers. The Government has also invested $1.5 billion over five years to fund the Remote Jobs and Communities Programme to help Australians living in remote regions. The main programmes delivering employment services to Indigenous Australians include Job Services Australia (JSA), Disability Employment Services (DES) and CDEP. JSA assists eligible job seekers to overcome personal vocational and non-vocational difficulties that may be hindering their ability to find and keep a job. Support can include the provision of tools, training courses, clothing or help to obtain a driver's licence or help to meet transport costs. Indigenous job seekers comprise 9% of JSA caseloads. All DES providers are required to develop, maintain and implement an Indigenous employment strategy. The new Employment Services 2015–2020 model (which will replace JSA) will incorporate a specific focus on Indigenous outcomes. Each employment provider will have Indigenous outcome targets to meet, based on the achievement of paid outcomes for Indigenous job seekers.

Figure 2.07-1 Labour force status of persons aged 15–64 years by Indigenous status, 2012–13
Labour force status of persons aged 15–64 years

Figure 2.07-1 shows the labour force status of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and non-Indigenous Australians aged 15–64 years in 2012–13. Data is presented for the participation rate; proportion of the working age population that are employed; and the unemployment rate. Between 2008 and 2012–13 there has been an increase of 6.9 percentage points in the employment gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous working age people (up from 21.2 to 28.1 percentage points). The Indigenous unemployment rate is currently 21%, an increase of 4.3 percentage points since 2008, and is 4 times the current non-Indigenous unemployment rate of 5%.

Source: ABS and AIHW analysis of 2012–13 AATSIHS and 2012 SEW

Figure 2.07-2 Labour force participation of persons aged 15–64 years by Indigenous status and age, 2012–13
Labour force participation of persons aged 15–64 years

Figure 2.07-2 shows the proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and non-Indigenous Australians participating in the labour force in 2012–13. Data is presented for the following age groups: 15-24 years; 25-34 years; 35-44 years; 45-54 years; 55-64 years; and the total for persons aged 15–64 years. In 2012–13, 60% of Indigenous Australians aged 15–64 years were in the labour force. This was made up of 48% employed and 13% unemployed. Data for non-Indigenous Australians is available from the 2012 Survey of Education and Work. In 2012, 80% of non-Indigenous people of working age were in the labour force. This was made up of 75.6% employed and 4% unemployed.

Source: ABS and AIHW analysis of 2012–13 AATSIHS and 2012 SEW

Figure 2.07-3 Labour force status of Indigenous persons aged 15–64 years, by remoteness, 2012–13
Labour force status of Indigenous persons aged 15–64 years

Figure 2.07-3 shows the labour force status (employed; unemployed; or not in the labour force) of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples aged 15–64 years in 2012–13. Data is presented separately for major cities; inner regional areas; outer regional areas; and total remote areas. In 2012–13, major cities and inner regional areas had the highest employment rates (50%) while very remote areas had the lowest employment rate at 42%.

Source: ABS and AIHW analysis of 2012–13 AATSIHS

Figure 2.07-4 Labour force status of persons aged 15–64 years, by Indigenous status, 2001, 2004–05, 2008 and 2007–08, 2012–13
Labour force status of persons aged 15–64 years

Figure 2.07-4 shows the labour force status (employed; unemployed; or not in the labour force) of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and non-Indigenous Australians aged 15–64 years in 2001, 2004–05,2008/2007-08 and 2012–13.

Source: ABS and AIHW analysis of 2001 NHS (Indigenous supplement), 2004–05 NATSIHS, 2004–05 NHS, 2008 NATSISS, 2007–08 NHS, 2012–13

Table 2.07-1 Labour force status of Indigenous Australians aged 15–64 years, by remoteness, 2012–13
Labour Force Status Remote Non-remote Australia
In the Labour Force (Participation Rate) 55% 62% 60%
Employed CDEP 9% 0% 2%
Employed non-CDEP 35% 49% 46%
Total Employed 44% 49% 48%
Unemployed (% of working age population) 11% 13% 13%
Unemployment Rate (% of Labour Force) 20% 21% 21%
Not in the Labour Force 45% 39% 40%
Total 100% 100% 100%

Source: ABS and AIHW analysis of 2012–13 AATSIHS