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1301.0 - Year Book Australia, 2004  
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Labour force status of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples

The Census of Population and Housing, conducted in August 2001, provides the main source of detailed information on the labour force characteristics of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. This article presents selected census information on the employment (including industry and occupation), and unemployment of Indigenous Australians.

Overview

Of Indigenous persons aged 15 years and over for whom labour force status was reported in the 2001 census, 52% were reported to be participating in the labour force by being either employed at the time of the census (42% employment to population ratio) or unemployed (10%), while 48% were not in the labour force (table S6.1).

The Indigenous employment to population ratio of 42% includes 7% of Indigenous persons aged 15 years and over who were reported to be employed in Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP), principally in remote areas of Australia.

The unemployment rate for Indigenous persons expresses the number of unemployed persons as a proportion of those Indigenous Australians participating in the labour force.


S6.1 SUMMARY LABOUR FORCE INDICATORS, By Remoteness Areas (footnote 1) - August 2001

Indigenous persons
Non-Indigenous persons


Major Cities
Regional(a)
Remote(b)
Australia
Major Cities
Regional(a)
Remote(b)
Australia
%
%
%
%
%
%
%
%

Participation rate(c)
Males aged 15-64
67.4
60.9
58.1
62.1
81.5
79.3
87.2
80.9
Females aged 15-64
51.4
46.0
41.8
46.5
66.8
63.5
71.0
65.8
Persons aged 15-64
59.1
53.2
49.8
54.1
74.0
71.4
79.8
73.3
Persons aged 15 and over
57.3
51.3
47.6
52.1
64.3
61.0
73.4
63.4
Unemployment rate
Males
22.1
26.4
12.7
21.8
7.4
8.5
4.9
7.7
Females
17.7
20.9
10.9
17.6
6.2
7.1
4.0
6.5
Persons
20.1
24.0
11.9
20.0
6.9
7.9
4.5
7.2
Employment to population ratio(c)
Males
51.2
43.4
48.7
47.0
66.9
63.0
76.8
65.8
Females
40.9
34.9
35.4
36.7
53.3
49.5
62.1
52.2
Persons
45.8
39.0
41.9
41.7
59.9
56.2
70.0
58.9

(a) Combines Inner Regional and Outer Regional areas.
(b) Combines Remote and Very Remote areas.
(c) Persons whose labour force status is unknown have been excluded from the calculation of rates.
Source: ABS data available on request, 2001 Census of Population and Housing.

Participation in the labour force

The 52% Indigenous participation rate at the time of the 2001 census was about the same proportion as at the 1996 census (53%). The participation rate in 2001 was higher for men (60%) than for women (45%).

The participation rate for non-Indigenous persons aged 15 years and over was 63% in both 2001 and 1996, about 10 percentage points higher than the Indigenous rate. However, these comparisons do not take any account of the different age structures of the Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations. For example, for the non-Indigenous population aged 15 years and over, 16% were aged 65 years and over, while this older age group accounted for only 5% of the Indigenous population aged 15 years and over. The participation rates in this older age group are much lower than the overall participation rates in both the Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations. When the population is restricted to persons aged 15-64 years, the difference in labour force participation rates widens considerably, 54% for Indigenous persons aged 15-64 years compared with 73% for non-Indigenous persons.

For the Indigenous population, the labour force participation rate declined with increasing geographic remoteness.

Persons not in the labour force

Some people are not actively engaged in the labour market for a variety of reasons, including participation in schooling, age, illness, caring responsibilities and/or lack of labour market opportunities in their area. The proportion of the population which is not participating in the labour force provides an indicator, beyond the proportion of unemployed persons, of the potential additional workforce in the population. In every age group except young people aged 15-17 years, the proportion of Indigenous persons who were not in the labour force was about 20 percentage points higher than the proportion of non-Indigenous persons.

Persons unemployed

The 2001 census unemployment rate (the number of people unemployed expressed as a proportion of the total labour force) for Indigenous persons was 20% compared with 23% in 1996. Over three-quarters (78%) of unemployed Indigenous persons were looking for full-time work. Indigenous persons in the labour force were almost three times as likely as non-Indigenous persons to be unemployed.

Indigenous persons living in Regional areas and Major Cities had the highest unemployment rates (24% and 20% respectively) (graph S6.2). The relatively low Indigenous unemployment rate in Remote areas (12%) should be considered in conjunction with low levels of labour force participation, high levels of participation in CDEP, and limited mainstream labour market opportunities.

Graph - S6.2 Unemployment rates, by Remoteness Areas - August 2001


Within the Indigenous population, unemployment rates were higher for men (22%) than women (18%) and generally declined with increasing age, consistent with the pattern in the non-Indigenous population. Unemployment rates were comparatively high among young people aged 15-17 years (32%) and 18-24 years (27%). In both these age groups the Indigenous unemployment rate was roughly double the non-Indigenous rate. In the 25-34 years and the 35-44 years age groups the Indigenous unemployment rate was nearly three times the non-Indigenous rate (graph S6.3).

Graph - S6.3 Unemployment rates, By age group - August 2001


Persons in employment

The 42% Indigenous employment to population ratio in 2001 is little changed from 41% in 1996. A higher proportion of men (47%) than women (37%) were in employment. The employment to population ratio for non-Indigenous persons was 59% in 2001 and 57% in 1996.

The proportion of Indigenous persons in employment was higher in Major Cities (46%) and lower in Regional (39%) and Remote areas (42%).

Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP)

The CDEP scheme is a significant feature of labour force participation by Indigenous peoples, particularly, but not exclusively, in sparsely settled regions. The CDEP scheme enables members of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander communities to work and train in activities managed by local Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander community organisations, principally in remote areas where the local labour market might not otherwise offer employment opportunities.

CDEP participation is collected in the census only on the Special Indigenous Form used in discrete Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities (where the majority of CDEP employment is located). CDEP participation is not identified on the standard census form completed by Indigenous persons living in urban and regional areas where CDEP schemes are also active. In the 2001 census, 17,800 Indigenous persons were identified as CDEP participants, equivalent to about 60% of the total number of participants (32,000) recorded Australia-wide for administrative purposes at that time.

Of Indigenous CDEP participants identified in the 2001 census, the majority (69%) were in Very Remote areas and a further 10% were in Remote areas.

Compared with all Indigenous persons who were employed, Indigenous persons identified as CDEP participants were:
  • twice as likely to report part-time hours (74% compared with 38%)
  • more likely to report working in a low skill occupation (79% compared with 60%)
  • one-third as likely to report a non-school qualification (9% compared with 29%).

Employment by industry and occupation

The main industries in which Indigenous persons were employed in 2001 were Government administration and defence (20%), Health and community services (12%) and Retail trade (9%). The main industries in which non-Indigenous persons were employed were Retail trade (15%), Manufacturing (12%) and Property and business services (11%).

The main occupation groups for employed Indigenous persons were Labourers and related workers (24%) and Intermediate clerical, sales and service workers (18%), while the main occupation groups for non-Indigenous persons were Professionals (18%) and Intermediate clerical, sales and service workers (16%) (graph S6.4).

Graph - S6.4 Employed persons, By occupation - August 2001


Endnote

1 ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) 2001, Statistical Geography, Volume 1: Australian Standard Geographical Classification (ASGC), 2001, cat. no. 1216.0, ABS, Canberra.

References

Population Characteristics, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians 2001, cat. no. 4713.0, ABS, Canberra

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