Unemployment, housing down

AS Western Australia’s unemployment rate moves to record lows, recent statistics reveal a slight downturn in the previously buoyant housing sector. Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show that, while the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate increased by 0.1 of a percentage point to 5.1 per cent nationally, WA experienced a fall of 0.2 of a percentage point to 3.9 per cent last month, the state’s lowest in 30 years. The state’s unemployment rate was down 0.2 per cent from the 4.1 per cent recorded for March 2006, with WA’s participation rate remaining the highest of all states at 67.7 per cent, ahead of the national rate of 64.3 per cent. However, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry WA says the low rate shows up the weaker areas of the economy. “The broader economy is doing extraordinary well and labour is under huge demand,” CCI chief executive John Langoulant said. “[But] it is reflective … on what is probably an emerging issue in this state and that is skills shortage. “When you get unemployment down to 3.9 per cent, using an old saying, the pipes are starting to squeak, [and] to find more labour is a constant challenge for employers.” As has been previously reported in WA Business News, HBOS Australia chief economist Alan Langford said Western Australia’s employment growth could mask the problem of underemployment, with some people working as little as an hour but still considered employed. The trend estimate of employed persons in WA has risen 27 per cent from 835,900 in August 1996 to just more than 1.065 million in April 2006, above the national increase of 21 per cent for the same period. Meanwhile, total building approvals were up 0.2 of a percentage point, although private sector housing approvals fell 8 per cent, according to March figures. Total dwelling units approved have risen to 2,039 in WA, however the trend estimate for total dwellings approved has shown falls for the past two months. Approvals for private sector houses in WA have fallen to 1,694, following the trend for the past three months. Real Estate Institute of Western Australia director of research and policy, Stewart Darby, said the fall of 8 per cent in March for private sector housing approvals illustrated monthly volatility in the sector. “It is a notable drop,” he said. “But only a few months ago, January approvals were the highest on record in monthly terms. “WA has been in an upward trend over the last four years and we are simply coming back to a more sustainable level.” Mr Darby told WA Business News the percentage fall may be due to a seasonal lull as a result of time lags in the industry. Nationally, there was an increase in total dwelling units approved of 2.2 per cent, coming in above market expectations on 1 per cent. Also in March, the number of owner occupied housing commitments (seasonally adjusted) fell 0.7 per cent in WA compared with February 2006, against a national increase 0.7 per cent.

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