ABS responds to 'Caught in the grip of economic revolution' (18 February 2012, The Courier Mail, page 23)

To the editor, The Courier Mail,

Your article on 18 February 2012 'Caught in the grip of economic revolution' implies the ABS unemployment figures are diverging from reality and that the Morgan survey paints a better picture of the economy. However, there are major differences between the ABS Labour Force Survey and the Morgan survey, and direct comparisons between the two should not be made.

As indicated in the article, to be unemployed in the ABS Labour Force Survey, a person must be without work (jobless) in the reference week, actively looking for work, and available to start work. The ABS uses a short reference period to give a snapshot of the available labour supply at a point in time.

From the limited information available about the Morgan survey, for someone to be 'unemployed' they just have to be looking for work, no matter when. There is also no information about whether someone has to be 'jobless' to be included as 'unemployed'.

The number of people surveyed each month in the ABS Labour Force Survey is more than 10 times that in the Roy Morgan survey. Sample size is a key factor in the quality of statistics; the bigger the sample the better the quality. The ABS publishes information about survey quality to help people understand the data.

In addition to headline indicators on employment and unemployment, the ABS publishes a vast array of information about Australia's labour force, including the number of persons who are employed but would like more work; that is those persons who are underemployed. There is also information available on people who are not in the labour force, including those looking for work but not available to start work at the time of the survey.

It is a combination of all this data, produced by the ABS, which informs decision makers about the true state of the economy.

Peter Harper
Deputy Australian Statistician
Australian Bureau of Statistics