Wednesday – Thursday 13th and 14th May – 5 months, 27-28 days
OK, this is going to be one of those annoying posts that people who travel to developing countries end up writing at one point or another. But I think I’ve got a point. So.
I am tired of the hand-wringing about how Australia’s official unemployment rate is going to apparently skyrocket to *gasp* above 8%. I am tired of it for two reasons. In fact, only one of them is Timor related.
I am tired of this hand-wringing because in Timor there are about 500 formal sector jobs going each year for about 15,000 teenagers straight out of school. 90% of this country is employed in raising children and farming. In Dili, kids walk around selling phone credit and fruit. These are not income-generating activities; these are sustainable-life type activities. You earn enough to buy a little food to eat or grain to sow and then you eat that and start again. You don’t accumulate savings or stockpiles of goods.
Now, lots of Timorese people are quite happy with their lives and don’t want much more than enough food to eat and school for their kids and a secure, clean house. But a lot of people don’t have that. Way more than half the population.
The other reason I am tired of this hand-wringing about the official unemployment rate is that – damn. It has only been the last couple of years that this rate was under 6%! Going back up is *normal*, not a catastrophe!
Further – let me emphasise this, in case you haven’t picked it up yet – this is the OFFICIAL unemployment rate. The official employment rate does not take into account students, people who would like to be in the paid workforce but are not registered in the Job Network as unemployed and searching for work (hello single mothers and fathers), underemployment (people who’d like to work more hours but can’t – hello mothers, hello mature agers, hello workers with disabilities), and so on. It also doesn’t account for regional variation – e.g. where in coastal and regional areas the unemployment rate is usually much higher, especially when you are looking at youth or older workers.
So if we’re going to freak out, let’s get our facts straight. The unofficial employment rate – I like to think of it as the ‘real’ employment rate – is more like 14% right now. Oh my God! Yet the country is still kind of tootling along ok. Nobody is worrying much about those people sneakily left out of the official employment rate, though. *Those* people are the ones I’m worried about. They definitely deserve some hand-wringing.
Please note, I am not saying it’s a good thing that unemployment is going up, or that I don’t care about people losing their jobs. On the contrary. The second especially is dreadful. I’m just saying that it’s normal. And if you’re going to lose your job right now, Australia is probably one of the better places to do it.