Jobseekers outnumber vacant jobs by as much as 106-to-one, study finds

The grim reality for jobseekers has been exposed in new research that lays out Australia’s unemployment epidemic.

Anglicare Australia’s latest survey of job availability shows it is especially dire for people seeking “entry-level” jobs that do not require prior experience or qualifications beyond high school.

Across the nation, there are eight entry-level jobseekers for every appropriate position. In Tasmania it is 21 jobseekers per job.

“In this downturn, people who need the most help to find work are being left behind,” Anglicare Australia executive director Kasy Chambers said in the report.

“There aren’t enough jobs at their skill level to meet demand in any part of the country.”

If you include all jobseekers — including newly unemployed people with skills and experience who may be looking for work at a level below what they have previously held — there are as many as 106 jobseekers for every entry-level position.

That is not news to single mother Sonia, who has been applying for jobs since she became unemployed in February last year.

Sonia lives in Adelaide’s northern suburbs and has experience and training in retail. But the sheer number of people applying alongside her for recent jobs — such as a Christmas casual position in a card store and another in a shoe store — has her rattled.

“I applied for a job last week and there were 793 other applicants for that one casual job. The following day I applied for another — 463 applications,” she said.

“There’s hundreds — hundreds — going for these jobs.”

‘Worst recession in living memory’

The Jobs Availability Snapshot 2020 report explains how tough the jobs market is for people without qualifications or work experience.

Recent news reports back up Sonia’s experience, detailing how entry-level jobs have attracted thousands of applications.

Chart showing the change in people seeking employment between May 2019 and May 2020
COVID-19 has driven up the number of people seeking work.(ABC News: Alistair Kroie)

The snapshot compares the number of people who have “barriers to work” with the number of vacant jobs at their skill level.

“The actual number of people without work is likely to be masked by the JobKeeper scheme. It could be much higher than we realise,” the report noted.

The massive JobKeeper wage subsidy is being wound back, and the amount paid in unemployment benefits for the JobSeeker payment (previously called Newstart) has also been cut back.

For people seeking work, the numbers game is grinding and feels fruitless.

“Not only does it wear you down, it makes you feel like you have no value because you’re constantly being rejected,” Kristin O’Connell, spokesperson for the Australian Unemployed Workers Union, said.

“We know that everyone is feeling demoralised, and the group feeling the least hope are people [seeking entry-level positions], because they know they have almost no chance of getting those jobs but they’re forced to apply for them.”

The charity’s report calls for three major reforms: the creation of a “single, liveable income” (something somewhat akin to a universal basic income), investment in job creation and the closure of the JobActive service.

Instead of describing the bushfires and pandemic of 2020 as unexpected disasters, the report frames them as “predictable crises” that have exposed our failing safety net.

“Our systems have been designed to look after the most advantaged best. Under extreme pressure, they have failed the people who need them the most,” the report says.

“We must reimagine how we support each other to ensure help goes to those who need it most, and demand that government reorganises its systems to make this happen.”

‘Blow to self-esteem’

Jobseeker Joel, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is contracted for another month, said the situation was no easier for skilled and qualified workers.

With a 25-year work history, he is struggling to get an interview for roles within his expertise.

“You get told everything: ‘You’re too experienced,’ ‘Your experience does not match our requirements,’ ‘The role went to an internal candidate,'” he said.

People like Sonia want to get a job, but the numbers are against them.

“I want to work. I’m very much looking,” she said, detailing how she had fronted up to almost every store in the suburbs around where she lives.

“It’s a blow to the self-esteem,” she said.

“It’s not just a physical toll — getting up, dressing up, looking the part, going in, applying — 90 per cent of the time I’m not even expecting a call back.

“It’s really hard getting rejected for jobs you have the skills for.”

Tomorrow, we will get a clearer look at our unemployment problem when the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) releases the September labour force figures. The expectation is the unemployment rate will rise from 6.8 per cent to 7.1 per cent.

Under the international methodology used, working as little as just one hour in the reference week counts you as employed.

The ABS also compiles an underemployment figure for those who would like to work more hours than they are. It remained stuck at 11.2 per cent in August.