ABS Letter to the SMH Editor in response to "Statistician must lift game on employment figures" (Sydney Morning Herald 19 February)

ABS labour force figures not misleading

Ross Gittins criticised the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) and its employment figures and suggested changes to broaden the definition of unemployment (SMH 19 February).

The ABS clearly defines its unemployment measure, and does not agree that it is misleading. The definition of unemployment follows international standards and has been collected in the same way over a long period. The continuity and international comparability of this data is a major benefit to users.

Despite the high profile of the unemployment rate, ABS acknowledges that no single measure can capture the complexity of the labour market. For this reason, the ABS publishes a number of other measures which help identify the degree of labour underutilisation.

Next Monday 26 February, the ABS will release the annual estimate of the number of underemployed people (as at September 2006) in Underemployed Workers, Australia (ABS cat. no. 6265.0).

As well as this annual measure, the ABS is developing a new quarterly measure of underemployment sourced from the monthly Labour Force Survey. The new measure will provide an indicator of the number of people underemployed each quarter. Once released, this series will present a more timely measure of labour underutilisation than the current annual series.

Yours sincerely
Susan Linacre
Acting Australian Statistician