Nine out of 10 jobs lost during the pandemic recovered by Christmas: ABS

Nine out of 10 of the jobs lost during the coronavirus pandemic were recovered ahead of Christmas, with the economy improving and businesses reopening as outbreaks of the virus were brought under control.

Australian Bureau of Statistics labour force data released on Thursday shows the unemployment rate fell 0.2 percentage points over the month to 6.6 per cent in December. This meant 912,000 people were without work over the month, down from 942,100 in November and over 1 million at the height of the virus' impacts on businesses.

Most jobs lost during the pandemic were recovered ahead of Christmas, but the recovery in hours worked has been slower.Credit:Andrew de La Rue

Hours worked increased by 2 million and the underemployment rate decreased by 0.8 percentage points to 8.5 per cent over the month.

The participation rate improved marginally, by 0.1 percentage points, to 66.2 per cent.

ABS head of labour statistics Bjorn Jarvis said the recovery in hours worked has been slower than the overall employment recovery.

"Although employment has recovered 90 per cent of the fall from March to May, the recovery in part-time employment has outpaced full-time employment," Mr Jarvis said. About 88,000 more people were unemployed in December compared to March, ahead of the effects of the virus. But the overall figure showed 784,000 people more were back in work by the end of 2020 compared to May.

"While part-time employment was higher than March, full-time employment was 1.3 per cent below March," he said.

Joblessness jumped to 7.5 per cent in July last year as the coronavirus pandemic caused businesses to shutdown and households to stay home as much as possible. This meant that, for the first time on record, more than 1 million workers were left unemployed as the country fell into recession.

However, the unemployment figures have been improving steadily since. While there were outbreaks over the Christmas and New Year's period, which will largely show up in next month's data release, the virus' effects on the economy have been mitigated on the back of federal government programs like wage subsidy scheme JobKeeper. That scheme is due to end in March and those who have been stood down but paid JobKeeper have been counted as employed during the pandemic.

Youth unemployment improved by 1.7 percentage points to 13.9 per cent over December, however the participation rate fell 1.1 percentage points.

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