In this recession, low-paid women and those without a degree are being hit hardest in Australia

Greg Jericho
·4-min read
<span>Photograph: Harriet Bailey/EyeEm/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Harriet Bailey/EyeEm/Getty Images

From last Friday, the more than one-and-a-half million people on jobseeker had the coronavirus supplement cut from $550 a fortnight to $250. We know this will most greatly affect those who had already worked in lower paid jobs. Half of all job losses since February have come from just five groups of occupations, four of which are made up of women. And all five make up just 10% of all workers.

If you were able to go back to February and choose the safest job in this recession, you would have been smart to pick being an education or health professional, a numerical clerk or a “specialist manager”. Those are the occupations that actually gained workers from February to August.

They make up 20% of all workers, which demonstrates just how uneven a recession can be. Some occupations get decimated (literally), while others, if not thrive, at least suffer less.

Related: 'The decrease in the Covid supplement is a sentence to poverty, for me and many others' | Aidan, Freya, Jess and Jade

Generally in a recession the burden of job losses fall on the few. And that is certainly the case this time round.

The latest quarterly labour force figures released on Thursday show that half of all job losses since February came from just five of the 102 occupation groups defined by the bureau of statistics broken down by gender.

Those unfortunate five were sales assistants, hospitality workers, sports and personal service workers, hospitality and retail managers, and mobile plant operators.

And they accounted for just 9.5% of all workers.

Ten per cent of workers; 50% of job losses.

A quarter of both sports and personal services workers, and hospitality workers, and one in five mobile plant operators have lost their jobs.

This harsh burden on the few is a common trait of recessions.

In the 1990s recession, the worst five affected occupations by gender accounted for 45% of all job losses between May 1990 and May 1993.

What is striking is that none of those five are even among the top 15 worst hit this time round.

The 1990s recession hit auto and engineering workers, machinery and plant operators, farm, forestry and garden workers, personal assistants and secretaries, and mining and construction labourers.

It was mostly all about manual labour and manufacturing. This time round it is mostly about services.

What is also different is the gender of the workers who are losing their jobs.

In 1990s, only one of the worst 11 hit groups were women; this year the top four are.

All told the five occupation groups for women that lost the most jobs accounted for half of every job lost since February. In the 1990s recession the five worst-hit occupations for women only accounted for around a quarter of all job losses.

This of course reflects the shift from a goods to a services economy, but one aspect remains in place – it is much better to have a job that requires high skills or education.

Since February, the number of employed workers aged 25-54 who have a degree or diploma has fallen by around 2%. By contrast those who only have a Year 12 or equivalent have seen their employment drop by nearly 6%.

Those prime-aged workers with bachelor degrees entered the pandemic with an unemployment rate of 3.0% compared with those with at best a Year 12 certificate of 4.6%.

It already is tougher for those without a post-secondary school education to get work but recessions also hit them harder.

The unemployment rate for those with a bachelor degree has risen 1.2 percentage points to 4.2%, while the rate for those with only Year 12 has risen 3.0 percentage points to 7.6%.

Not surprisingly such workers are more commonly found in occupations such as sales assistants and hospitality workers.

And given women hospitality workers on average earn just $550 a week compared with the national average of $1,304, we are also talking about some of the lowest-paid workers in the country.

In a recession just about every industry and occupation suffers, but some suffer more than others. This time round it has been low-paid women in the services sector and those with lower levels of education qualifications.

And right now they have just had to deal with a $300 cut in their benefits.