ABS responds to 'accusations of adjusting unemployment figures' published in 'Fraser Coast Chronicle' on 24 June 2004

"Unemployed" (Chronicle 24 June) accused the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) of adjusting unemployment figures to give a picture more desirable to the government. These accusations are baseless, and show a lack of understanding of the statistics produced.

The ABS is independent of government, as guaranteed through an Act of Parliament. The way in which ABS statistics are defined, collected and published is decided solely by the ABS and is based on high professional and ethical standards. To imply otherwise attacks the integrity, credibility and impartiality that the ABS is known for.

Employment and unemployment statistics in Australia are measured using internationally accepted concepts and methods. These have been used in Australia since the 1960s.

In no way can the participation rate be changed to affect the unemployment rate - both rates are calculated directly from survey estimates of the numbers of people 'employed', 'unemployed' and 'not in the labour force' (e.g. retired people).

The unemployment rate is calculated as the 'unemployed' divided by the 'labour force' (i.e. 'employed' plus 'unemployed'). The participation rate is calculated as the 'labour force' divided by the population.

A fall in employment doesn't necessarily lead to an increase in unemployment (or the unemployment rate). Not all people who leave employment become unemployed - others leave the labour force altogether (for example, people retiring, or stopping work to look after children). People are considered unemployed only if they didn't have a job at the time of the survey and they were available to work and were actively looking for work.

The Labour Force Survey is conducted by random sampling approximately 30,000 households around Australia each month. Within each state and territory, all households have an equal chance of selection. The sample is not, as implied, only conducted in some areas, selected to give a particular result.

The ABS encourages informed community discussion, but it is important that such discussion is based on facts.

Malcolm Greig
Acting Regional Director, Qld
Australian Bureau of Statistics

6 July, 2004