The relative economic status of Indigenous people in the Northern Territory, 1991-96

Author/editor: Taylor, J, Roach, LM
Year published: 1998
Issue no.: 156


The 1996 Indigenous population of the Northern Territory was very close to the level projected on the basis of 1991 Census figures. This contrasted with the situation in most other States and the Australian Capital Territory where population levels in 1996 were much higher than expected. As a consequence, much interest surrounds the analysis of intercensal change in social indicators in the Northern Territory because it provides a benchmark based on consistent population levels against which the experience of other jurisdictions may be measured. This also means that intercensal change in employment and income levels can be established directly without adjusting for non-biological population increase.

Key findings are as follows:

  • Between 1986 and 1991, the overall employment rate of Indigenous people in the Northern Territory displayed distinct signs of improvement, rising from 28 per cent to 31 per cent (Taylor 1994: 7). By 1996, it had improved even further to 36.2 per cent.
  • Nonetheless, the employment rate for Indigenous people remains substantially below the Territory average and is still less than half the level recorded for non-Indigenous adults.
  • The Indigenous unemployment rate fell from 25.9 per cent in 1991 to 17.8 per cent in 1996. However, the non-Indigenous rate also fell substantially from 9.6 per cent to 5.9 per cent. As a consequence, the unemployment level among Indigenous people worsened relatively and now stands at three times the level recorded for non-Indigenous adults in the Northern Territory.
  • Most employment growth occurred in urban centres, although some of this reflects category shift in the section-of-State classification.
  • In rural areas, the CDEP scheme accounted for 93 per cent of the growth in employment. In urban areas, it accounted for 38 per cent of new jobs.

After accounting for likely jobs growth due to other labour market programs, mainstream employment is estimated to have risen by 4 per cent per annum. However, this was only just sufficient to keep up with growth in the working-age population resulting in minimal change to the mainstream employment population ratio.

Despite some success in stimulating jobs growth, little change in income relativities between Indigenous and non-Indigenous adults is evident since 1991 with the ratio of mean Indigenous to non-Indigenous income standing at 0.41 in 1996. Likewise, even though the fact that the labour force status of Indigenous people in rural areas continued to improve, their incomes relative to those of Indigenous people in urban areas fell further behind.

Overall, there has been notable increase in the contribution of employment income to total income. In 1991, 49.2 per cent of income for Indigenous people was derived from employment. By 1996, this proportion had risen to 55.5 per cent. However, compared to the equivalent figure of 92 per cent for the non-Indigenous population this means that a far higher proportion of Indigenous people (45 per cent compared to 8 per cent) remain dependent on non-employment sources of income.

To date, improvements in labour force status, while keeping just ahead of population growth, have not impacted on the gap in average incomes. For this to change, Indigenous people will need to acquire employment at a much faster rate and in positions that provide an income at least commensurate with those obtained by the rest of the workforce.

ISBN: 0 7315 2591 4

ISSN:1036 1774

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