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Jacob Saulwick
May 15, 2009

JOBLESSNESS in the inner city is already approaching 10 per cent, while working hours are also falling as recession eats into working conditions.

Detailed labour force figures released yesterday by the Bureau of Statistics show the uneven spread of job losses throughout Sydney and NSW.

In the inner city, for example, the number of unemployed has more than doubled since the end of last year – from 15,800 in December to 31,900 in April.

The figures are sketchy – the bureau urges caution because of small sample sizes – but trends are emerging in the geographic sweep of joblessness.

The unemployment rate in inner Sydney and in the inner west increased every month from the end of last year, from 4.6 per cent in December to 9 per cent in April. For men in the area, unemployment has hit 12 per cent, while the female rate is about 6 per cent. For most of last year unemployment in the region was closer to 4 per cent.

Sydney, with the nation’s highest concentration of finance sector workers, has been an early victim of the downturn. But while finance companies have been steadily laying off staff for the best part of a year, it is only in recent months that rising unemployment has started to emerge in official figures.

Outer suburbs – Fairfield, Bankstown, north-west Sydney – have had higher unemployment in the past couple of years. But they have not had the same level of increase since the financial crisis escalated last September.

Yesterday’s report provides more detail than the Bureau’s release last week, which showed the national unemployment rate dropping from 5.7 per cent to 5.4 per cent, and NSW unemployment falling from 6.8 per cent to 6 per cent.

The report also showed employees have started to work shorter hours, typically a precursor to rising joblessness. For the first time since figures were collected eight years ago, the average male working week dropped below 41 hours. For females, it dropped less sharply, to 31 hours.

The report comes as a range of indicators point to improvements in economic confidence.

A consumer confidence index compiled by Roy Morgan rose more than seven points last month to 104.5, and is now seven points higher than a year ago.

Some 38 per cent of Australians – 5 per cent more than the previous month – expected their family to be “better off financially” by the same time next year. Only 17 per cent – a fall of 5 per cent – expected to be worse off, the survey, conducted before the budget, showed.

A separate report from the Bureau of Statistics highlighted emerging strength in the first-home market, with housing finance increasing 7.3 per cent in March. And loans to build new homes have increased by more than 40 per cent in the past seven months, spurred on by the $21,000 government grant.

The success of the first-home owner’s grant has raised hopes Australia will avoid the precipitous falls in home prices that have hit the US and Britain.

But a Royal Bank of Scotland economist, Kieran Davies, warned that lower interest rates and limited new housing supply might not support house prices in the coming year.

“House price dynamics can develop a life of their own … Prices may fall further independently of what happens to unemployment,” he said.

http://www.smh.com.au/national/jobless-rate-doubles-in-innercity-sydney-20090514-b4ti.html?page=-1

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