Aboriginal unemployment statistics: policy implications of the divergence between official and case study data

Author/editor: Smith, D
Year published: 1991
Issue no.: 13


Aboriginal unemployment in Australia has reached chronic proportions. Official 1986 Census data estimate the Aboriginal unemployment rate at 35.3 per cent, almost four times higher than the equivalent rate for non-Aboriginal Australians. This paper examines various official statistics on Aboriginal unemployment and their underlying definitional frameworks and methodologies. Comparisons are made with data from research surveys and case studies using a wide range of definitions. The paper concludes that official statistics significantly underestimate the true level of Aboriginal unemployment and obscure certain important characteristics of their labour force status. In particular, regional and community research studies report significant levels of long-term and 'invisible' unemployment and describe critical patterns of intermittent working and 'recycling' Aboriginal unemployment.

Government policy and associated programs directed toward improving Aboriginal employment levels rely heavily on official estimates of Aboriginal labour force status. The Aboriginal Employment Development Policy (AEDP) is a major initiative to improve Aboriginal employment levels, with a key objective of achieving employment equality by the year 2000. The paper argues that census data used to formulate the AEDP's statistical goals fail to accurately reflect the true extent and nature of Aboriginal unemployment, jeopardising the validity of assessments of Aboriginal unemployment levels and undermining the effectiveness of AEDP programs. Alternative approaches to estimating the level and characteristics of Aboriginal unemployment are urgently needed and are considered in the paper's conclusion.

ISBN: 0 7315 1275 8

ISSN:1036 1774

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