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4102.0 - Australian Social Trends, 2004  
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Contents >> Work >> Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the labour force

Paid Work: Aboriginal and torres Strait Islander Peoples in the Labour Force

In the 2001 census, the unemployment rate for Indigenous persons aged 15-64 years was 20%, compared with 7% for non-Indigenous people of the same age.

Income gained through employment is vital to the wellbeing of many working age Australians and their families, contributing to their financial independence and security. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples generally experience lower levels of employment than non-Indigenous Australians. Factors contributing to this include the generally lower educational attainment of Indigenous peoples and the limited range of employment opportunities in remote areas.

The relatively low proportion of Indigenous persons in paid employment is a major factor contributing to the status of the Indigenous population as one of the most disadvantaged groups in the community. In response to this, providing employment for Indigenous persons has been a focus of government policy for many years. A range of programs have been instituted to promote Indigenous employment, most notably the Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP) scheme, which has operated since 1977.

BROAD TRENDS

The labour force participation of the Indigenous population has changed little in the last decade. The labour force participation of the Indigenous population aged 15-64 years was relatively stable at 54% (including participation in CDEP) in the ten years to 2001, compared with 73% for the rest of the population.

In the 2001 census, the unemployment rate for Indigenous persons aged 15-64 years was nearly three times as high as the rate for the non-Indigenous population (20% compared with 7.3%). This is despite a reduction in the unemployment rate among Indigenous persons since 1991, which coincided with an improvement in the general economic climate and a reduction in non-Indigenous unemployment.



LABOUR FORCE PARTICIPATION OF PEOPLE AGED 15-64 YEARS
GRAPH - LABOUR FORCE PARTICIPATION OF PEOPLE AGED 15-64 YEARS



UNEMPLOYMENT AMONG PEOPLE AGED 15-64 YEARS
GRAPH - UNEMPLOYMENT AMONG PEOPLE AGED 15-64 YEARS


ABORIGINAL AND TORRES STRAIT ISLANDER PEOPLES

Data in this article are drawn from the 1991, 1996 and 2001 ABS Censuses of Population and Housing. In the 2001 census, 238,000 people aged 15-64 years were identified as being of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander origin. Between 1991 and 1996 there was an increase in the propensity for people to identify as being Indigenous, which may affect analysis of apparent changes over time in the characteristics of Indigenous peoples examined in this article.(SEE ENDNOTE 1)

Labour force status

Information in this article is presented for the working age population, aged 15-64 years.

Employed people in this article are those aged 15-64 years who worked for payment or profit, or as an unpaid helper in a family business, during the week prior to census night, or had a job from which they were on leave or otherwise temporarily absent, or were on strike or stood down temporarily.

Unemployed people are those who do not have a job but are actively looking for work and are available to start work. In any group, the unemployment rate is the proportion of people in the labour force who are unemployed.

The labour force consists of people who are employed or unemployed, as defined above. In any group, the labour force participation rate is the proportion of all people who are in the labour force.


LABOUR FORCE PARTICIPATION: PEOPLE AGED 15-64 YEARS, By Remoteness Area - 2001
GRAPH - LABOUR FORCE PARTICIPATION: PEOPLE AGED 15-64 YEARS, By Remoteness Area - 2001


LABOUR FORCE PARTICIPATION

Differences in the labour force participation rates of the Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations were evident across the regions of Australia and across age groups.

Indigenous persons aged 15-64 years had lower labour force participation rates across all Remoteness Areas. The difference was greatest in Very Remote areas, where the participation rate for Indigenous persons aged 15-64 years was the lowest in Australia (48%), while that for the non-Indigenous population was the highest (83%). In contrast to the non-Indigenous population, labour force participation among the Indigenous population tended to be lower in more remote areas than in Major cities or Inner Regional areas.

The labour force participation rate of Indigenous persons was lower than that of the non-Indigenous population for every age group. However, the pattern of participation for males and females over the life cycle was similar for both populations, with females less likely to participate in the labour force than males. Overall, Indigenous persons aged 15-64 years had a labour force participation rate of 62% for males and 46% for females, compared to 81% for non-Indigenous males and 66% for non-Indigenous females.


LABOUR FORCE PARTICIPATION, By sex and age - 2001
GRAPH - LABOUR FORCE PARTICIPATION, By sex and age - 2001


COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT EMPLOYMENT PROJECTS (CDEP)

Instituted in 1977, the Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP) scheme enables participants to exchange unemployment benefits for opportunities to undertake work and training in activities which are managed by a local Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander community organisation. Participants in the program are therefore included in the employed category of the labour force status classification. Most CDEP organisations are located in regional and remote areas of Australia, where the labour market might not otherwise provide employment. Although providing stable employment, CDEP tends to employ people on a part-time basis and in relatively unskilled occupations. CDEP participation is concentrated among younger age groups, and in 2001 around 60% of participants were male.

The CDEP participants identified in the census were counted on Special Indigenous Forms (SIF) as part of the enumeration procedures used in remote communities and in some discrete Indigenous communities in non-remote areas. These forms contained explicit references to CDEP whereas the standard census form was not specifically designed to collect information on CDEP participation. Census output for CDEP employment therefore only reflects information collected on the SIF. The census count of CDEP participants reported on SIFs was 17,800. Allowing for the undercount in the census, particularly in Remote and Very Remote areas, the number of CDEP participants reported on SIFs was equivalent to about 60% of the number of CDEP participants recorded at the same time for administrative purposes by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (32,000). It is not known what proportion of CDEP participants reporting on standard census forms would report their CDEP activities as employment, or whether they would report that they were either unemployed or not in the labour force. This ambiguity in reporting needs to be considered in interpreting the labour force status of Indigenous persons in census statistics.


UNEMPLOYMENT

Indigenous persons continue to experience considerably higher unemployment rates than the non-Indigenous population. As noted earlier, in 2001 the unemployment rate for Indigenous persons aged 15-64 years was 20%, compared to 7.3% for the non-Indigenous population.

The unemployment rate may not reflect the full extent of the underutilisation of labour among the Indigenous population. Low labour force participation rates indicate that some Indigenous persons may be discouraged job seekers who are not looking for work because they feel they would not be able to get a job, or there are no jobs available. In addition, while participation in the CDEP scheme is counted as employment, the work is generally low skilled and part-time, and may not fulfil the desire for better paid employment for some participants.

Between 1996 and 2001, the unemployment rate among the Indigenous population aged 15-64 years fell from 23% to 20%. Over the same period, the unemployment rate among the non-Indigenous population also fell (from 9.1% to 7.3%).

...REMOTENESS AREAS

In 2001, the pattern of unemployment for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations showed lower rates of unemployment in Very Remote areas. The rate for Indigenous persons was highest in Inner Regional areas (25%) and lowest in Very Remote areas (8.3%). The rate in Very Remote areas was a consequence of both the low labour force participation rate (48%), and relatively high rates of participation in CDEP (68% of employed Indigenous persons) in these regions.



UNEMPLOYMENT RATES FOR PEOPLE AGED 15-64 YEARS, By Remoteness Area - 2001
GRAPH - UNEMPLOYMENT RATES FOR PEOPLE AGED 15-64 YEARS, By Remoteness Area - 2001

REMOTENESS AREAS

This article uses the ABS Remoteness classification to examine the labour force status of Indigenous people in the six Remoteness Areas. Remoteness is calculated using the road distance to different sized urban centres, where the population size is considered to govern the range and type of services available. The six Remoteness Areas are: Major Cities of Australia; Inner Regional Australia; Outer Regional Australia; Remote Australia; Very Remote Australia and Migratory. The Remoteness Area names used in this article are abbreviated versions of these official names with 'Australia' omitted. For further information see Statistical Geography: Volume 1 - Australia Standard Geographical Classification (ASGC), 2001 (ABS cat. no. 1216.0).

A comparatively high proportion of the Indigenous population aged 15-64 years lives in regional and remote areas. In 2001, over one-quarter (26%) of Indigenous persons aged 15-64 years lived in Remote or Very Remote areas, compared to 2% of the non-Indigenous population.

...AGE

As with the non-Indigenous population, unemployment was particularly high for young Indigenous persons. Among Indigenous persons aged 15-17 years and 18-24 years, unemployment was around 15 percentage points higher than for non-Indigenous persons of the same age (32% and 27% respectively for Indigenous persons compared to 16% and 13% for non-Indigenous persons). Indigenous males aged 15-17 years experienced the highest levels of unemployment, around 34% (compared to 18% for non-Indigenous males of the same age). Unemployment declined steadily with increasing age for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous persons. The unemployment rate for those aged 55-64 years was 10.4% and 5.7% for Indigenous and non-Indigenous persons respectively.

...EDUCATIONAL ATTAINMENT

Educational attainment has a major influence on the employment outcomes of both the Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations. Although Indigenous persons had higher rates of unemployment than the non-Indigenous population for every level of educational attainment, the difference was particularly marked for people with lower levels of qualifications. For example, Indigenous persons who had not completed Year 12 had an unemployment rate more than twice as high as non-Indigenous persons with the same level of education (24% compared to 10.6%). Indigenous persons with a bachelor degree or higher qualification had an unemployment rate of 5.9%, compared to 3.3% for the non-Indigenous population.


UNEMPLOYMENT RATES FOR PEOPLE AGED 15-64 YEARS(a): HIGHEST EDUCATIONAL ATTAINMENT - 2001
GRAPH - UNEMPLOYMENT RATES FOR PEOPLE AGED 15-64 YEARS(a): HIGHEST EDUCATIONAL ATTAINMENT - 2001


EMPLOYMENT

With relatively low labour force participation and high unemployment, the Indigenous population aged 15-64 years had a low proportion of employed people (43%), compared with the non-Indigenous population (68%).

Lower proportions of Indigenous persons were employed than the non-Indigenous population across all Remoteness Areas. However, the pattern of employment differed for the two populations. The proportion of employed Indigenous persons was highest in Major Cities (47%), and lowest in Inner and Outer Regional areas (both around 40%).

LABOUR FORCE STATUS OF PEOPLE AGED 15-64 YEARS, BY REMOTENESS AREA - 2001

Major Cities
Inner Regional
Outer Regional
Remote
Very Remote
Australia(a)

INDIGENOUS
%
%
%
%
%
%

Employed(b)
47.2
40.3
40.5
42.6
44.4
43.2
CDEP
0.5
1.9
4.6
9.8
29.6
7.7
Other
46.7
38.4
35.9
32.9
14.8
35.6
Unemployed(c)
11.9
13.5
12.2
10.1
4.0
10.8
Not in the labour force
40.9
46.2
47.3
47.3
51.6
45.9
Total
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
'000
'000
'000
'000
'000
'000

Total(d)
71.9
45.5
52.0
20.0
42.7
237.6

NON-INDIGENOUS
%
%
%
%
%
%

Employed(b)
68.9
64.9
67.3
74.7
80.1
68.0
Unemployed(c)
5.1
5.9
5.5
4.0
2.9
5.3
Not in the labour force
26.0
29.2
27.2
21.4
16.9
26.7
Total
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
'000
'000
'000
'000
'000
'000

Total(d)
8,016.3
2,322.6
1131.5
172.3
59.4
11,811.0

(a) Includes Migratory category of Remoteness classification.
(b) Includes employer not stated.
(c) As a proportion of people aged 15–64 years in that region.
(d) Includes labour force status not stated.
Source: ABS 2001 Census of Population and Housing.
In contrast, the proportion of non-Indigenous persons who were employed was highest in Remote and Very Remote areas (75% and 80%).

In 2001, in non-remote areas, 68% of employed Indigenous persons aged 15-64 years worked in the private sector (compared with 83% of non-Indigenous persons), and 27% were employed in the government sector (compared with 17% of non-Indigenous persons). In Remote and Very Remote areas, around 50% and 17% respectively of employed Indigenous persons worked in the private sector, with 26% and 15% working in the government sector. In addition, the CDEP scheme provided around one-quarter (24%) and two-thirds (68%) of employment for Indigenous persons in Remote and Very Remote areas respectively.

In 2001, 45% of employed Indigenous persons worked part-time, compared to 33% of non-Indigenous persons. This is partly due to the CDEP program, as 80% of CDEP participants were employed part-time. Accordingly, part-time employment among Indigenous persons was more common in Very Remote areas (66% of employed Indigenous persons), because of the high levels of CDEP participation in these regions.

INDUSTRY

In 2001, the sources of employment were somewhat different for the Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations. This reflected the sorts of jobs available to people living in remote communities, as well as the differing skills bases of the two populations. The main industries for employed Indigenous persons aged 15-64 years were Government administration and defence (21% of employed people), Health and community services (12%) and Retail trade (10%). For the non-Indigenous population the main industries were Retail trade (15%), Manufacturing (12%) and Property and business services (11%).


SECTOR OF EMPLOYMENT(a): INDIGENOUS PEOPLES AGED 15-64 YEARS, By Remoteness Area - 2001
GRAPH - SECTOR OF EMPLOYMENT(a): INDIGENOUS PEOPLES AGED 15-64 YEARS, By Remoteness Area - 2001


Around 68% of CDEP participants worked in Government administration and defence. This is partly because in Very Remote areas CDEP schemes tend to be managed by community councils, and persons employed under these schemes commonly have their industry of work classified as Government administration and defence. In addition, 11% of CDEP participants worked in the Personal and other services industry, and 7.3% in Health and community services.

There were some differences in the industries employing Indigenous persons across Remoteness Areas. In Major Cities and Inner Regional areas, Retail trade (12% and 13% respectively) and Health and community services (12% and 14% respectively) were the most common industries of employment. In contrast, in Very Remote areas 58% of employed Indigenous persons worked in Government administration and defence, mainly as CDEP participants.

Employment in certain industries varied across different age groups within the Indigenous population. For younger Indigenous persons, Retail trade was the main industry, employing 40% of 15-17 year olds and 14% of 18-24 year olds. In addition, Accommodation, cafes and restaurants employed around 6% of both these age groups. Indigenous persons aged 25-64 years had higher levels of employment in industries such as Health and community services (14%) and Education (10%), compared to non-Indigenous persons in the same age group (11% and 8.2% respectively).



SELECTED INDUSTRIES AMONG EMPLOYED PEOPLE AGED 15-64 YEARS - 2001
GRAPH - SELECTED INDUSTRIES AMONG EMPLOYED PEOPLE AGED 15-64 YEARS - 2001

STATES AND TERRITORIES

While Indigenous persons aged 15-64 years experienced lower rates of labour force participation and higher rates of unemployment than the non-Indigenous population in all states and territories, there was some variation in the comparative employment situation of the two populations between jurisdictions. For example, with about 80% of Indigenous persons living in Remote and Very Remote Areas, the Northern Territory recorded the lowest labour force participation rate for Indigenous persons in Australia (40%), compared with the highest rate (82%) for the non-Indigenous population. A high proportion (52%) of employed Indigenous persons in the Northern Territory identified as CDEP participants, contributing to the Northern Territory recording a relatively low unemployment rate of 14% for the Indigenous population (5% for non-Indigenous persons). In contrast, the ACT, with a highly urbanised, highly mobile Indigenous population, had the highest labour force participation rate among Indigenous persons in Australia (69%) along with the lowest unemployment rate (13%), compared with 79% and 5% respectively for the non-Indigenous population. In Tasmania the labour force participation rate for Indigenous persons (61%) was closer to the non-Indigenous rate (69%) than in any other state or territory.

LABOUR FORCE STATUS OF PERSONS AGED 15-64 YEARS

Labour force
participation rate
Unemployment rate


Indigenous population
Indigenous
Non-Indigenous
Indigenous
Non-Indigenous
State
‘000
%
%
%
%

NSW
68.5
54.6
72.7
23.1
7.1
Vic.
14.6
58.3
73.5
18.0
6.8
Qld
64.4
58.1
73.6
20.1
8.1
SA
13.7
51.3
72.2
20.4
7.5
WA
33.8
54.3
74.5
19.0
7.3
Tas.
9.2
60.6
69.2
19.8
9.9
NT
31.1
39.9
82.3
13.6
5.0
ACT
2.1
68.8
79.1
13.2
5.0
Aust.(a)
237.6
54.1
73.3
20.0
7.3

(a) Includes Other Territories.
Source: ABS 2001 Census of Population and Housing.

2002 NATIONAL ABORIGINAL AND TORRES STRAIT ISLANDER SOCIAL SURVEY

The first results from the 2002 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey will be released at the end of June 2004. The survey collected information from about 9,500 Indigenous peoples aged 15 years and over, in both remote and non-remote areas of Australia.

The survey provides detailed information on the labour force characteristics of Indigenous persons, including participation in CDEP. As it collected data across a wide range of areas of social concern, labour force characteristics can be analysed in relation to other topics such as family and community, culture and language, health, education, income, housing, crime and justice and transport use.

OCCUPATION

Indigenous persons are more likely to be employed in lower skill occupations than the non-Indigenous population. In 2001, almost two-thirds (63%) of employed Indigenous persons were working in the two lowest skill occupation groups (see Australian Social Trends 2004, Work: definitions, pp. 106-107 for definitions of skill groups), compared with 44% of the non-Indigenous population.This pattern is consistent with relatively low levels of educational attainment among the Indigenous population and the types of jobs available in more remote areas of Australia, including under CDEP. Of Indigenous CDEP participants identified in the census, 86% were engaged in low skill occupations, compared to 58% of Indigenous persons in non-CDEP employment. Reflecting the high levels of CDEP participation in Very Remote areas, 79% of Indigenous persons employed in these regions were engaged in low skill occupations.

The main occupation group for the Indigenous population was Labourers and related workers (25%), while for the non-Indigenous population it was Professionals (19%). However, similar proportions of both the Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations were employed as Intermediate clerical, sales and service workers (19% and 17% respectively). Employment in low skill occupations was a contributing factor to the lower incomes of the Indigenous population (see Australian Social Trends 2004, Incomes of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, pp. 146-150).

ENDNOTES

1 Ross, Kate 1999, Population Issues, Indigenous Australians, 1996, cat. no. 4708.0, ABS, Canberra.


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