ABS responds to 'Workers cast aside as jobs crunch bites - Struggle street -' (Daily Telegraph, 17 February 2012, Page 2)

To the editor, The Daily Telegraph.

Your article on 17 February 2012 'Workers cast aside as jobs crunch bites - Struggle street -' implies the ABS unemployment figures do not reflect the "real economy". The article also implies that a Roy Morgan survey paints a better picture of the economy. However, there are major differences between the ABS Labour Force Survey and the Roy Morgan survey. Despite the ABS explaining these differences to the journalist, incorrect comparisons continue to be made by the Daily Telegraph.

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 Roy 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.

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