Go to Wikipedia for a discussion of unemployment, and this caution on “unemployment rates.”
The unemployment rate is the number of unemployed workers divided by the total civilian labor force, which includes both the unemployed and those with jobs (all those willing and able to work for pay). In practice, measuring the number of unemployed workers actually seeking work is notoriously difficult. There are several different methods for measuring the number of unemployed workers, each with its own biases, making comparisons between methods difficult.
Governments gloss over these difficulties, and so by and large do the media. So we are all meant to go “ooh!” and “ah!” when we read about the lowest unemployment rate for three decades (“and the Prime Minister isn’t hiding his excitement.”)
But hang on a minute. I am not unemployed. Nor strictly speaking am I “employed”: I am not on the books at Centrelink, but I no longer work for the Department of Education either. I eke out a living on (currently) about six hours a week of coaching. So therefore I am “employed”. I am not a statistic in the unemployed list, and I know I am not alone.
I discussed this in April in Defining the unemployed out of existence where I expressed, with some evidence, my cynicism on this particular bit of bean counting. I am not accusing the Bureau of Statistics of dishonesty, by the way; they count what they are asked to count given the criteria they are asked to use.
I still am amazed that people like Howard can keep a straight face when they talk about the subject.