At least 2.6 million people face poverty when COVID payments end and rental stress soars


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Simone Casey, RMIT University and Liss Ralston, Swinburne University of TechnologyMany Australians whose jobs were decimated by the COVID business shutdowns will soon be waking up to new income shocks and the prospect of rental stress. This is because people whose employers can’t afford to keep them on will suddenly lose more than A$300 per week when the JobKeeper scheme ends on March 28. Worryingly, this income shock will happen just days before the payment to people on the JobSeeker benefit is effectively cut by $100 per fortnight.

At that point, all income support recipients – more than 2.6 million people – will be below the poverty line and many will face extreme rental stress.




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This income shock has been anticipated for some time, but what does it means for rates of rental stress, particularly in Victoria? Despite promising signs of recovery, Victorian jobs lost in the COVID-induced recession, such as in the hard-hit business tourism and live music industries, have not bounced back at the same rate as others.

What will happen to rental affordability?

To illustrate this point we have modelled housing affordability for single people who were on either the full-time or part-time JobKeeper rate. In this scenario, they could also get JobSeeker payments at a part-rate because of the temporary increase in the income-free threshold to $300. This made them eligible for Commonwealth Rent Assistance too.

The chart below shows the impacts on income and rental affordability when JobKeeper and Coronavirus Supplement payments end. Their incomes and the amount of rent they can afford are roughly halved.

Impacts of the loss of JobKeeper and Coronavirus Supplement on income and affordable rent.
Author provided

Full-time and part-time single workers were able to afford weekly rent of $265 and $245 respectively before the withdrawal of JobKeeper. Afterwards, affordable rent goes down to $115 per week. That’s about $110 less than the $450 median rent ($225 per person) for a two-bedroom share house in Melbourne.

Based on our earlier calculations, this leaves these renters with only $17.57 per day to meet basic costs. They have a lavish $3.57 per day more than they did before the pandemic to pay for food, utilities and job-seeking costs such as mobile phone plans and travel cards (A$4.40 a day in Melbourne).




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What is different now than for pre-COVID unemployment was that business shutdowns thrust people who had reliable earnings – and accompanying high rents and mortgages in metropolitan areas – onto JobSeeker and JobKeeper payments.

The chart below shows the change in rental affordability for a number of household types before the pandemic and during the Coronavirus Supplement stages (i.e. payments of $550, then $250, then $150).

Affordable rents by household types with supplement and without.

For example, when their income was highest during the $550 stage, two singles sharing could afford rent of $430 per week. Once the supplement ends and is replaced by the $25-a-week increase in JobSeeker payment, affordable rent declines to only $230 per week or $115 each.

Rental affordability for single-parent households is notable here because the COVID Supplement was payable to one person only. Once the supplement is withdrawn, they will again be disadvantaged relative to other households because they will not be receiving the increase in the JobSeeker payment.




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What sort of job losses can we expect?

It is hard to predict exactly how many people will lose their jobs when JobKeeper ends. What we do know is the economic recovery in Victoria has lagged behind the other states. We also know that at the end of December 2020 1.55 million people were on JobKeeper and a large proportion of them (626,000) were in Victoria.

Economist Jeff Borland conservatively estimates national job losses could range between 125,000 and 250,000. It is reasonable to expect as many as half of these could be in Victoria.

Our analysis also shows there are worrying signs that the economic recovery celebrated in the January labour force data was not sustained in February. The latest data provided to a Senate inquiry into COVID-19 show JobSeeker recipients increased by 7,267 between January and February. The increase in Victoria could be attributed to the temporary Christmas retail boom, but in states like New South Wales and Queensland claims decreased slightly.

While fewer people will lose their jobs in other states than in Victoria when JobKeeper is withdrawn, they are not immune to this income shock. We created the chart below to show the overall scale of the coming problem of rental stress when the fortnightly $150 Coronavirus Supplement disappears and is replaced by the $50 JobSeeker increase.

Households and people on income support falling under poverty line as COVID supplement reduces (based on DSS data February 2021)

Once the supplement reduced to $250 per fortnight, singles and single parents with two children were below the poverty line. When it was reduced to $150, the number of household types in poverty increased again. From April 1, all income support recipients – covering more than 2.6 million people including children – will be waking up to poverty and the prospect of extreme rental stress.

What can be done to avoid this?

So how can governments prevent people from falling off the rental cliff? It is unlikely to be achieved by introducing cut-price flights to Far North Queensland.

A new range of strategies will be needed. These include options advocated by ACOSS and others to increase the maximum rate of Commonwealth Rent Assistance by 50%, increase the JobSeeker base rate above the poverty line and introduce rental stress grants targeted at individuals who need help.

Over the longer term, there is also a need to adopt strategic approaches to increase the supply of affordable rental housing such as those recommended by researchers at the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI).The Conversation

Simone Casey, Research Associate, Future Social Service Institute, RMIT University and Liss Ralston, Adjunct associate, Swinburne University of Technology

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The $50 boost to JobSeeker will take Australia’s payment from the lowest in the OECD to the second-lowest after Greece



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Peter Whiteford, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University and Bruce Bradbury, UNSW

Fifty dollars sounds like a lot. But the increase in the JobSeeker unemployment benefit announced by Prime Minister Morrison on Tuesday is $50 per fortnight, which is just $25 per week. It will replace the temporary Coronavirus Supplement of $75 per week, which is itself well down on the $275 per week it began at in March last year.

It’s hard to see the increase as anything other than a cut, especially when coupled with another change which will allow recipients to earn other income of only $75 per week before JobSeeker gets cut. That’s down from the present $150 per week.

As the prime minister said, it’s better than it would have been if things returned to the level we had before special coronavirus provisions. At that time, recipients could earn only $53 per week before having their payment reduced.

But it’s not particularly generous. The Age and Sydney Morning Herald are quoting senior government sources as saying the $50 per fortnight increase in the rate was the lowest figure the party believed would be palatable to the public.

Morrison justified the increase of $50 per fortnight – rather than $150 (which would have kept what’s left of the coronavirus boost in place) or $100 or any other figure – by saying it will bring the payment to

41.2% of the national minimum wage, which puts us back in the realm of where we had been previously

Taking account of taxes paid and superannuation received by minimum wage workers gives a slightly higher replacement rate of 42.3%. That takes it back to roughly where it was at the end of the Howard government in 2007.

However, there’s no readily apparent reason why that should be a benchmark.

During the life of the Howard government the level of the single payment fell from around 50% of the minimum wage to 42%, meaning what’s proposed will return it to its lowest point relative to other benefits under Howard.


JobSeeker and age pension as a proportion of the minimum wage 1990-2021

Notes: Rates for single adult shown relative to net income when receiving a full-time minimum wage (deducting tax and Medicare levy, and adding employer superannuation contribution). Any casual loading not included. Rates shown at first of each month. Any rent assistance not included. Poverty line is half of median equivalised household income for non self-employed workers. Rates include coronavirus supplement and energy supplement, future rates are estimates.


Morrison also said the increase was the largest permanent increase in the unemployment benefit since 1986. It’s an increase of 9.7%.

During the Hawke and Keating administrations, the payment increased 23% in real terms. During the Whitlam administration it increased 50%. This means that while what’s offered is substantial by the standards of recent decades, it’s less so in the longer run.

But what about the supplements?

Morrison also argued in his press conference JobSeeker is more adequate than the base rate would suggest because

on top of that, if they’re receiving Commonwealth Rent Assistance, that payment would increase to $760.40; and on top of that, the average value of stand-alone supplements, the energy supplement and so on, is an additional $13.03. So the suggestion that anyone who was on JobSeeker is simply on that payment alone and there aren’t additional supports that are provided is not correct.

It’s true all people on income support receive the energy supplement (included in the figure above). But for a single person on JobSeeker, the supplement is only $8.80 per fortnight or less than 65 cents a day.

Many people do indeed get rent assistance, but after paying rent they become worse off rather than better off.

That’s because to get the maximum rate of rent assistance for a single person of $140 per fortnight (9% of the minimum wage), that person has to be paying around $310 per fortnight in rent. If that person is paying more, they get no extra help. The maximum is also lower for people in shared accommodation.

Private sector renters are amongst the worst off recipients of income support.




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Other supplements such as the remote area allowance are indeed available, but are of no help to people who do not live in remote areas and may be inadequate to cover the higher costs involved. Supplements for help with language and literacy are only paid to people in special educational programmes.

Producing an average that includes supplementary payments most people don’t receive is inherently misleading.

How Australia compares

Net replacement rates measure the proportion of previous in-work income that is maintained after several months of unemployment. They are the benchmark used by the the prime minister to compare benefits to the minimum wage.

Using two months in unemployment as the measuring point (and using the most recently published 2019 rankings) before the pandemic, Australia’s replacement rate was the lowest in the OECD — even after rental assistance was added in.


Unemployment benefit, share of previous income after two months

Net replacement rates in unemployment including rent assistance, 2019 or latest available data.
OECD.Stat

When the maximum rate of Coronavirus Supplement was briefly in force in 2020, Australia moved to around the OECD average.

The new rate from April 2021 will move Australia from the lowest to the second lowest, ahead of Greece only.


Unemployment benefit, share of previous income, after Australian increase

Net replacement rates in unemployment including rent assistance after two months, 2019 or latest available data.
OECD.Stat

It should be acknowledged Australia’s system is based on different principles to many other OECD countries in which workers and their employers make contributions to and withdrawals from unemployment insurance.




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But the difference in philosophy does not change the brutal reality that when Australian workers lose their job, their incomes fall more than in almost any other high income country.

Even after what the government has trumpeted as a historic increase, there will be few developed countries where people will be as worse off after losing work. Any permanent increase is welcome, but there is a long way to go.The Conversation

Peter Whiteford, Professor, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University and Bruce Bradbury, Associate Professor, Social Policy Research Centre, UNSW

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Top economists want JobSeeker boosted by $100+ per week and tied to wages



Wes Mountain/The Conversation, CC BY-ND

Peter Martin, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

Once about as high as the pension, the JobSeeker (Newstart) unemployment payment has fallen shockingly low compared to living standards.

It’s now only two thirds of the pension, just 40% of the full-time minimum wage and half way below the poverty line.

JobSeeker has fallen relative to other payments because while the pension and wages have climbed faster than prices, JobSeeker (previously called Newstart) has increased only in line with prices since 1991.

In an apparent acknowledgement that JobSeeker had fallen too low, the government roughly doubled it during the coronavirus crisis, introducing a supplement to enable people to “meet the costs of their groceries and other bills”.

But that supplement is being wound down, from A$225 per week to $125 on September 25, and again to $75 on January 1, before expiring on March 31.

After March, the single rate of JobSeeker (including the $4.40 per week energy allowance) will drop back to about $287.25 per week.


JobSeeker vs age pension


Source: Ben Phillips ANU, Services Australia

Ahead of a decision about any permanent increase expected early next year, The Conversation and the Economic Society of Australia asked 45 of Australia’s leading economists where they thought JobSeeker should settle.

Only four think it should revert to $287.25 per week.

All but eight want a substantial increase. More than half (24 out of 45) want an increase of at least $100 per week.



Economic Society of Australia/The Conversation, CC BY-ND

The results suggest the economists would be dissatisfied with a decision to merely increase JobSeeker by $75 per week in line with the supplement that is due to expire at the end of March.

The 45 members of the society’s 57-member panel who responded include Australia’s preeminent experts in the fields of microeconomics, macroeconomics economic modelling, labour markets and public policy.

Among them are former and current government advisers, a former member of the Reserve Bank board and a former member of the Fair Work Commission’s minimum wage panel.




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Many want an increase of about $150 a week to bring JobSeeker close to the age pension and 50% of median income.

Curtin University’s Harry Bloch asked (rhetorically) whether unemployed people had “lower needs than those on the aged pension”.

Labour market specialist Sue Richardson said keeping payments so low that people lost dignity and hope and suffered material deprivation hurt not only the people who were unemployed, but also the thousands of children who grew up in their households.

A scant incentive to shirk

She knew of no evidence that suggested a low rate of JobSeeker increased the likelihood of an unemployed person getting a job.

Jeff Borland said even if JobSeeker was increased by $125 per week, those on it would still earn less than all but 1% of full-time adult workers and would face plenty of remaining financial incentives to get paid work.

In research to be published in The Conversation on Monday he examines a real-life experiment: the temporary near-doubling on JobSeeker between March and September, and finds it played no role in creating unfilled vacancies.




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Emeritus Professor Margaret Nowak said JobSeeker had been driven to the point where it denied unemployed Australians the shelter, food and transport they needed to find work.

Former Liberal party leader John Hewson described the failure to adjust JobSeeker for three decades as “immoral”, and a national disgrace driven by “little more than prejudice”.

Going forward, there was overwhelming agreement among those surveyed that once JobSeeker was restored to an acceptable level, it should be linked to wages (in line with the pension) rather than increase with prices as before.



Economic Society of Australia/The Conversation, CC BY-ND

Two thirds of those surveyed want JobSeeker increase in line with wages, and of those who do not, several want the pension to increase more slowly in order to ensure the two move in sync.

Gigi Foster and Geoffrey Kingston propose a half-way house – increases in both the pension and JobSeeker halfway between increases in the consumer price index and wages.

Wages determine living standards

Others suggest practical measures to make JobSeeker better at getting Australians into jobs. Beth Webster suggests reducing the rate at which JobSeeker cuts out with hours worked to encourage part-time workers to take on more hours.

Tony Makin suggests a relocation allowance to help people take on jobs distant from their current place of residence.




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None of the economists surveyed expressed concern about the budgetary cost of restoring the relative position of JobSeeker, estimated by the Parliamentary Budget Office to be $4.8 billion per year for an increase of $95 per week.

Several expressed a desire to put the issue behind them, increasing JobSeeker to a reasonable proportion of the pension or median wage and leaving it there so that, in the words of Saul Eslake, “this issue never arises again”.


Individual responses

The Conversation

Peter Martin, Visiting Fellow, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

JobSeeker supplement extended to end-March, at lower rate


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The federal government will extend the JobSeeker Coronavirus supplement for an extra three months, to the end of March, at a cost of $3.2 billion.

The supplement, which is currently $250 a fortnight, will be at a reduced rate of $150 a fortnight during that period.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the financial “lifeline” that had been extended during the COVID crisis could not be allowed now to hold Australia back, as the country moved into the next phases of recovery.

The extension is a recognition that longer-term assistance is needed for the high number of people who will be unemployed early next year and that extra stimulus is needed to help lift the economy out of recession as soon as possible.

But the government is still avoiding the question of what change it will make to the base JobSeeker rate, which was widely recognised as inadequate long before the pandemic.

At the same time, the government is pushing a tougher approach to trying to ensure people take what jobs are available.

Morrison told a news conference mutual obligation requirements were being enforced. There were nearly 260,000 suspensions between September 28 and October 31, and from August 4 to October 31, 242 payments were cancelled.

“So the mutual obligation requirements are there and we are serious about them. But we are also serious about the support we need to provide to Australians,” Morrison said.

We are seeing confidence return, whether it’s on the NAB measures just released today, the ANZ measures showing confidence getting above where it was pre-pandemic or the Westpac figures that were released for last month,” Morrison said.

“Australia is safely reopening and it needs to remain safely open. Jobs are returning. Job advertisements have doubled since May on the most recent figures in October, and we know that employers are looking for people to come back to work and we need to ensure that we have the right settings in place to support that.”

The shadow minister for families, Linda Burney, said the government would “cut unemployment support by $100 per fortnight after Christmas.

“With the Morrison Government expecting 1.8 million Australians to be on unemployment support by the end of the year, now is not the time to cut unemployment support. There are simply not enough jobs for every Australian who needs one.”The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Cutting JobSeeker payments will cause crippling rental stress in our cities



Antonio Guillem/Shutterstock

Simone Casey, RMIT University and Liss Ralston, Swinburne University of Technology

As soon as the COVID-19 pandemic caused businesses to shut down, state governments acted to avoid evictions by introducing moratoriums, and the federal government introduced the Coronavirus Supplement of A$550 on top of the fortnightly JobSeeker payment. These measures were intended to enable 1.6 million Australians to ride out the pandemic-related business shutdowns.

This welcome but temporary support is being withdrawn. The JobSeeker supplement was reduced to A$250 a fortnight from September 26. It will end in January 2021.

Timeline of Coronavirus Supplement.

Our modelling for Victoria shows the tapering down and withdrawal of the JobSeeker supplement will cause crippling rental stress for unemployed and underemployed private renters. In Melbourne, we have found the unemployed will face the same problem of rental stress as those on the former Newstart allowance experienced before the pandemic. (Rental stress is defined as a low-income household spending more than 30% of its income on housing costs.)




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Before COVID, private rentals in nearly all capital cities were already unaffordable for unemployed and low-income renters even in typical share households. What makes the scenario worse than before COVID are the sheer numbers affected. Many of these people may have had incomes prior to the shock that enabled them to maintain higher rents.

To illustrate the extent of the rental stress crisis we modelled rental affordability for the typical low-income household types in Victoria. The first chart shows the effects of the withdrawal of the supplement on rent affordability for two and three sharers and lone-parent families. The second chart later in this article shows the effects across a range of household types.

Impacts of Coronavirus Supplement withdrawal on three household types. (Median rents calculated from Real Estate Institute of Australia June 2020 data. Income calculated to include Commonwealth Rent Assistance (CRA) and lone-parent income includes Parenting Payment Single with Family Tax Benefit.)

The modelling shows the interim rate (A$250) of the Coronavirus Supplement will help for a limited number of household types, particularly in the outer part of Melbourne and regional towns like Ballarat. However, it will not help many households in the inner region of Melbourne where rentals will remain unaffordable. This pattern is worrying because that’s where many of the jobs will become available once economic recovery is under way.




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Households with more than one adult receiving the supplement will be better off than lone-parent households. That is because all the adults in those households receive the supplement, and lone-parent households generally need to rent properties with more than one bedroom.

Impacts of Coronavirus Supplement withdrawal on major rental household types. (Median rents calculated from Real Estate Institute of Australia June 2020 data. Income calculated to include Commonwealth Rent Assistance (CRA) and lone-parent income includes Parenting Payment Single with Family Tax Benefit.)

The scenario here plays out across Australia, but is particularly bad for Victorians because the extended lockdown has deferred recovery.

COVID impacts have hit low-income households hardest

Is is important to note that the COVID economic shock has hit low-income households particularly hard. Those in precarious work, young adults and women have had the biggest hits to their incomes and jobs.

Map of JobSeeker increases indicating pandemic impacts on employment across Melbourne.




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In Melbourne increases in unemployment are concentrated in inner-city suburbs like Brunswick and St Kilda. This reflects the loss of jobs for young people in hospitality and retail.

Job losses have also occurred in working-class areas such as Brimbank, Melton and Hume. These losses reflect the impact of shutdowns in the processing, manufacturing and transport sectors.

It is predicted it will take some time for earnings to return to pre-COVID levels. This means renters who have not been able to get jobs will once again be in dire rental stress in most capital cities when the Coronavirus Supplement cuts out in January 2021.

What about household savings?

The Finder Consumer Sentiment Tracker shows household savings have temporarily increased. But it is difficult to assess how much reserve people on JobSeeker payment have been able to lay down, relative to the loss of normal earnings. Any optimism on this count needs to be tempered by the observation that the Coronavirus Supplement did not start until late April and early May — five to six weeks after the job losses started.

Our modelling shows that even during the temporary tapering down of the supplement until January 2021, there will be a rental crisis in cities like Melbourne. These findings can be extrapolated to other capital cities and the scenario will be worse in Sydney.

Cutting the JobSeeker supplement is risky policy because the labour market has not “snapped back”. People who depend on unemployment payments will now face the same problem of rental stress as those on NewStart experienced before the pandemic. But this stress will be more widespread than before. This underscores the need to develop policy that counters the risk of rental stress.




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The Conversation


Simone Casey, Research Associate, Future Social Service Institute, RMIT University and Liss Ralston, Adjunct associate, Swinburne University of Technology

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Top economists back boosts to JobSeeker and social housing over tax cuts in pre-budget poll



Wes Mountain/The Conversation, CC BY-ND

Peter Martin, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

Overwhelmingly, Australia’s leading economists want the budget to boost social housing and the JobSeeker unemployment benefit rather than bring forward personal income tax cuts.

The 49 eminent economists who responded to Conversation-Economic Society of Australia pre-budget survey were asked to rate 13 options in terms of “bang for the buck” – effectiveness in boosting the economy over the next two years.

Among the options offered were boosting JobSeeker (previously called Newstart), wage subsidies beyond the expiry of JobKeeper, one-off cash payments to households, big infrastructure spending, bringing forward the personal income tax cuts, and company tax cuts.

The options were selected by a committee of the central council of the Economics Society and were presented to each surveyed economist in a random (shuffled) order.

The economists surveyed are Australia’s leaders in the fields of microeconomics, macroeconomics, economic modelling and public policy. Among them are former and current government advisers, former heads of statutory authorities, and a former member of the Reserve Bank board.

Each was asked to nominate the four most effective options for boosting the economy.



Economic Society of Australia/The Conversation, CC BY-ND

The most popular option, endorsed by 55% of those surveyed, was boosting spending on social housing.

Monash University econometrician Lisa Cameron said the budget provided an unusual opportunity to fix things for the long term while boosting the economy.

Social housing would leave us with something worthwhile (as did the school hall building program during the global financial crisis) in addition to providing work for the building industry. Alleviating homelessness would be a lasting benefit.

If it goes to the unemployed, it will be spent

The second most popular option, endorsed by 51%, was permanently boosting JobSeeker, previously known Newstart. The temporary boost in the A$282.85 per week payment was wound back last week and will end in December.

Melbourne University economist John Freebairn pointed out that with no real increase in Newstart since 1993 and many on it in demonstrable poverty, every extra cent spent on it will be spent rather than saved.

Supported by fewer than half of those surveyed, but third most popular at 45%, was more funding for education and training.




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Flinders University labour market specialist Sue Richardson said education was
labour-intensive, which would help with employment, and would assist young people severely hit by the pandemic to get the skills they would need to get jobs rather than stay unemployed.

Matthew Butlin, who heads the South Australian Productivity Commission, said the decimation of income from student fees means universities will have less money to subsidise research. There was a case for more direct funding of university research in the form of competitive grants for projects with practical applications.

The fourth most popular option was infrastructure spending, supported by 41%.

Why not a Hoover Dam, a new Opera House?

Many made the point that the projects chosen would have to be worthwhile in their own right, and feared this might not be the case. Others looked to big “nation building” projects along the lines of the Hoover Dam in the United States which was built during the Great Depression and employed 21,000 people.

“Why not building a massive dam in Australia? Why not building a new Sydney Symphony Orchestra building like the Berlin Philharmonie? Why not expand the National Parks? Why not building green libraries all over Australia?,” asked Sydney University’s Stefanie Schurer.




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Done right, like the Sydney Harbour Bridge which was completed during the Great Depression, big imaginative projects could leave us with something valuable.

There was less enthusiasm for continued wage subsidies (35%) and an expanded investment allowance (29%) with University of NSW economist Gigi Foster saying investment allowances could be replaced with income-contingent loans along the lines of the Higher Education Contributions Scheme.

That way businesses could borrow to invest, with an obligation to repay if the investment paid off.

If it goes on tax cuts, it might not be spent

The same approach was taken by some to funding higher quality aged care (supported by 31%) and increasing subsidies for child care (29%).

Economic modeller Warwick McKibbin suggested funding child care through income-contingent loans (repayable on the basis of income) rather than subsidies.

Bringing forward the leglislated personal income tax cuts as proposed by the government and cash payments to households were relatively unpopular, supported by 20% and 16%.

Saul Eslake said that while he agreed with the treasurer that early tax cuts would “put money in people’s pockets”, there was no guarantee the high earners “into whose pockets most of that money would be put”, would take it out and spend it in sufficient quantity.




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Eslake suggested that rather than supporting households with cheques as happened during the financial crisis, households could be handed time-limited tradeable vouchers that could be spent in areas hurt by restrictions, such tourism and the arts, or used for other worthwhile purposes such as childcare or reskilling.

Among those who did support bringing forward the tax cuts was John Freebairn, who said that although presented as cuts, what was proposed would do little more than restore what had been lost to bracket creep, keeping income tax steady.

Company tax cuts an also-ran

Company tax cuts, once touted by former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull as the key to jobs and qrowth garnered minimal support, being backed by just six of the 49 economists surveyed.

The least popular option, backed by only two economists surveyed, was government support for cleaner fossil fuels such as natural gas, as the prime minister is promising. In contrast 13 (26%) backed support for renewable energy.


Individual responses

The Conversation

Peter Martin, Visiting Fellow, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

‘If JobSeeker was cut, the unemployed would be picking fruit’? Why that’s not true



F Armstrong Photography/Shutterstock

Peter Davidson, UNSW

I’m not sure which does the most harm: the cut of A$150 per week in JobSeeker payments due this Friday or the sudden and coincidental volley of media reports about unemployed people refusing jobs, including fruit picking.

This narrative is jarring when there are 19 people unemployed or underemployed for every vacancy and only 3% of employers report that they are recruiting but can’t find enough applicants.

Are unemployment payments really that cosy since they almost doubled in April from $282.85 to $557.85 a week?

$557.85 a week for a single adult is around 80% of the full-time minimum after-tax wage of $669 per week, and a good less again as a proportion of what most entry level jobs pay, because most pay more than the minimum wage.

Five studies conducted in the United States where unemployment payments were lifted US$600 per week during the coronavirus crisis found no evidence they were discouraging people from finding jobs.

Some were making 70% more than they did while in jobs.

Unemployed workers would generally prefer to be in paid work, and in any event are usually required to search for it.

There are other reasons not to pick fruit…

Fruit pickers are often underpaid cash-in-hand.

Growers representatives have told a parliamentary inquiry that when JobSeeker payments were doubled, many workers collected their final cheques and went home.

But temporary migrants and young locals are often underpaid in such jobs.

Squeezed by powerful customers, employers with thin margins and a ready supply of labour have grown used to offering very low wages cash-in-hand.

In piece-work like picking where pay is tied to output, there’s no legal requirement to pay minimum wages.

A labour hire firm recently complained people weren’t taking up their offer of “at least $500 per week” to pick strawberries.

$500 is two-thirds of the minimum wage.

It’s not just the pay that discourages people from taking up crop picking: they need to be fit and able to travel for what’s often a short period of paid work.

This won’t work for many people on Jobseeker, including the quarter with disabilities, the third aged 45 or over, and the 10% caring for children.




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Unemployment support will be slashed by $300 this week. This won’t help people find work


There are ways to reduce under-payment and high turnover in such jobs.

Reducing our reliance on temporary migrants would be a first step.

Otherwise, employers won’t compete fairly to attract workers, and local workers will remain wary.

More direct contact between the employers and unemployed people and less reliance on labour hire firms would help build trust.

…and other reasons not to work more days

Jobseeker tops up the wages of many part-time workers.

It is cut by 50c for every dollar earned above $53 per week, then 60c for every extra dollar earned up to $128 per week, before cutting out completely for a single adult on $544 per week.

Former social security official David Plunkett calculates that before COVID and the effective doubling of JobSeeker, a worker on it gained a net $100 to $200 for working one to three days a week at the minimum wage, climbing to $269 for the fourth day, after which Jobseeker expired.

Since the new arrangements and top up that effectively doubled JobSeeker, the net gains have fallen slightly $100 to $175 for the first three days, before dropping to just $5 on the fourth.




Read more:
The compromise that might just boost the JobSeeker unemployment benefit


The problem isn’t the effective doubling of JobSeeker, it’s the sudden-death cut off of the top-up as soon as the last dollar of Jobseeker expires.

That flaw could be fixed by tapering the supplement out gradually (rather than increasing the “income free area” to $150 per week as the government is proposing).

There’s no need to force people to choose between poverty and entry-level jobs.

Even if, for example, Jobseeker was increased permanently to the pension rate, it would still be under 70% of the minimum wage after tax.

Incentives for part-time work can be fixed by reforming income tests and tax. Beyond that, the answer to periodic labour shortages, exploitation and high turnover in entry-level jobs is better entry-level jobs.The Conversation

Peter Davidson, Adjunct Senior Lecturer, UNSW

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Unemployment support will be slashed by $300 this week. This won’t help people find work



Stefan Postles/AAP

Bruce Bradbury, UNSW and Peter Whiteford, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

This week, support to unemployed Australians will be dramatically reduced.

In April, the new Coronavirus Supplement roughly doubled the level of benefits for unemployed people on the JobSeeker payment and a range of other working-age payments.

The supplement will drop from $550 to $250 a fortnight from Friday. This is before it is dropped entirely at the end of 2020.

While there has been increasing pressure from welfare groups to maintain a higher level of JobSeeker supplement, there have also been calls from within the government to remove extra supports, amid claims people are not looking for work.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has warned about increased unemployment payments. As he said in June,

what we have to be worried about now is that we can’t allow the JobSeeker payment to become an impediment to people going out and doing work, getting extra shifts.

But will cutting support to unemployed Australians really help them get a job?

Our analysis shows there is considerable scope to increase JobSeeker payments before they might hinder people’s motivation to find paid work.

Lack of job searching is not the problem

Right now, there is little evidence a lack of job search effort is a significant problem for the economy.

Around 6.8% of the workforce is looking for work. But in July, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg acknowledged the real unemployment rate was closer to 13.3%, when “discouraged jobseekers” — not actively looking for work because their business is locked down or on hold — are included.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg speaking at a press conference.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has noted the real unemployment rate is more than 13%.
Daniel Pockett/AAP

With about 1.6 million people on JobSeeker but only 130,000 job vacancies in May 2020, it matters little if some job seekers are more selective about the job offers they accept.

In fact, for the longer term health of the economy, it is important people find jobs that suit their skills. International evidence shows the provision of unemployment benefits slightly increase both the wages received when work is found and the stability (or duration) of the new job.

But would higher benefits be a problem as the economy recovers?

If benefits start to approach the level of minimum wages, some workers with low earning potential might decide the extra effort is not worth it — and so reduce their job search effort.

As the economy recovers, this will mean some potential jobs will go unfilled and government expenditure on JobSeeker will remain unnecessarily high.

Comparing JobSeeker to the minimum wage

However, our analysis shows Australia is in no danger of creating a disincentive for people to seek work because of higher JobSeeker payments.

We have compared Newstart and JobSeeker payments for single people with the minimum adult full-time wage (after tax) over the past three decades. This is a standard benchmark for assessing incentives to move from welfare benefits into work — assuming work is available.



Our analysis also looks at the payments provided to single pensioners. Pensioners received around 55% of the minimum wage up until 2009, when the pension was increased under the Rudd government. After that, net pension income was around 65% of the minimum wage. This is close to the commonly used poverty line, set at half the median household disposable income.

But for unemployed people on JobSeeker (or its predecessor, Newstart), the past two decades have seen a steady decline in their position relative to the minimum wage. It has fallen from around 50% in the 1990s to under 40% at the start of 2020 — well below the poverty line.

These calculations changed with the introduction of the Coronavirus Supplement in April, which almost doubled the payment for single unemployed people. Nonetheless, JobSeeker plus the supplement was still well below the adult minimum wage (76%, or 82% if we add shared accommodation rent assistance).




Read more:
Australia has been stigmatising unemployed people for almost 100 years. COVID-19 is our big chance to change this


On September 25, the Coronavirus Supplement will drop by $300 a fortnight. And the combined JobSeeker/supplement payment will fall back to 55% of the minimum wage until December 31.

Unless the federal government makes further changes, the supplement will be removed entirely at the end of the year. So those on JobSeeker will be back receiving less than 40% of the minimum wage.

The crisis isn’t over, why is support being wound back?

Neither the pandemic nor the economic crisis will be over by the end of 2020.

As the wage subsidy program JobKeeper is also wound back, next week and then again, next year, increasing numbers will become reliant upon JobSeeker.

Man wearing mask lines up outside Centrelink office.
The Australian economy could take years to recover from COVID-19.
Dan Peled/AAP

If the payment reductions continue as forecast, this will force many people well below the poverty line. A recent Australian National University analysis estimated an extra 740,000 people will be pushed into poverty.

This would not only be a disaster for the people directly affected, but also likely have large adverse economic effects. Deloitte Access Economics estimates withdrawing the Coronavirus Supplement support would be equal to a reduction in the size of the economy of $31.3 billion and an average loss of 145,000 full-time equivalent jobs.

The case to maintain much of the crisis-induced increase in payments is clear. In the short term, there will be no shortage of people looking for work. Maintaining payments at around the pension level — close to the poverty line — should be our policy objective.




Read more:
When the Coronavirus Supplement stops, JobSeeker needs to increase by $185 a week


Even in the longer term, as labour demand increases, the large gap between welfare payments and minimum wages leaves plenty of room for permanent increases in income support, without creating a disincentive for people to look for work.

At a minimum, permanently increasing JobSeeker to 50% of the minimum wage — as was the case in the 1990s — should be an easily achievable target for Australia as it makes it way through the economic wreckage of COVID-19.The Conversation

Bruce Bradbury, Associate Professor, Social Policy Research Centre, UNSW and Peter Whiteford, Professor, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Winding back JobKeeper and JobSeeker will push 740,000 Australians into poverty



lakshmiprasada S/Shutterstock

Ben Phillips, Australian National University; Matthew Gray, Australian National University, and Nicholas Biddle, Australian National University

Australian National University calculations suggest JobKeeper and the boosted JobSeeker payment have saved about 2.2 million people from poverty.

It’s a remarkable outcome without precedent in Australia.

JobKeeper was set at A$1,500 per fortnight and the Coronavirus Supplement was set high enough to double JobSeeker and associated payments, increasing them to about $1,115 per fortnight.

Both are well above the poverty line, which according to our modelling is around $816 per fortnight.

From the end of September both will be cut. JobKeeper will fall to $1,200 per fortnight for those who previously worked 20 or more hours per week and to just $700 for those who previously worked less than 20 hours per week.

The payment to people on JobSeeker and related benefits will fall to $815.

Beyond December, JobKeeper will fall to $1,000 and $650 per fortnight and the Coronavirus Supplement will end, returning JobSeeker to $565.70 per fortnight.

Three quarters of a million more

Our estimates suggest that by themselves these changes will push an extra 740,000 Australians into poverty, lifting the total number in poverty from from 1.1 million to 1.84 million.

Partly offsetting this, the improvement in the economy forecast in the July Economic and Fiscal Update should it be realised would cut the number of Australians in poverty by about 140,000.

Treasurer Frydenberg said the payment he intends to withdraw would help with groceries.

These numbers tell us two important things.

One is that the Newstart unemployment benefit (now called JobSeeker) was too low.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg seemed to acknowledge this when he announced the doubling in March, saying it would allow unemployed people to “meet the costs of their groceries and other bills”.

The other is that without (and even with) JobKeeper, many, many more people would have been pushed on to it.

We define poverty an equivalised household income of less than half the median household income.

What it would do to the poverty gap

We define the “poverty gap” as the total difference in income between those households below that poverty line and the poverty line.

Prior to COVID-19 it was A$5.9 billion.

Should the unemployment rate stay at its present 7.5% after JobKeeper is withdrawn and JobSeeker returned to normal we expect it to climb to $6.5 billion.

Should it linger at the 10% forecast by the Reserve Bank, we expect it to climb to $6.9 billion.




Read more:
The coronavirus supplement is the biggest boost to Indigenous incomes since Whitlam. It should be made permanent


It’s in all of our interests to minimise it for any given level of government support.

The ANU Centre for Social Research and Methods has developed an algorithm for calculating the optimal mix of government supports to achieve a range of policy goals including minimising poverty.

The mix it suggests would cut the poverty gap from $6.5 billion to $5.6 billion under the 7.5% unemployment scenario and from $6.9 billion to 5.8 billion under the 10% unemployment scenario.

How to minimise the damage

If the total level of welfare expenditure were to remain unchanged on pre-JobKeeper and Coronavirus supplement settings, the single JobSeeker would be increased substantially from $551 to $821 per fortnight and the age pension single rate from $902 to $915 per fortnight.

The increases would be offset by reductions in the Parenting Payment from $770 to $737 per fortnight (single), Family Tax Benefit Part A for children under 13 years of age from $218 to $154 per fortnight and Rent Assistance from $137 to $131 per fortnight.




Read more:
When the Coronavirus Supplement stops, JobSeeker needs to increase by $185 a week


We have also modelled the optimal setting for a 20% increase in government support and a 20% cut.

What our algorithm proposes wouldn’t eliminate poverty (it would cut it by between 14% and 15%) but it would enable to the government to achieve a lot without spending more money.

An essential part of whatever solution it adopts has to be an increase in JobSeeker. Without it an extra 740,000 Australians will be in poverty.The Conversation

Ben Phillips, Associate Professor, Centre for Social Research and Methods, Director, Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR), Australian National University; Matthew Gray, Director, ANU Centre for Social Research and Methods, Australian National University, and Nicholas Biddle, Professor of Economics and Public Policy, ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

How to get both JobKeeper and JobSeeker


Brendan Coates, Grattan Institute and Jonathan Nolan, Grattan Institute

At A$1,500 a fortnight, JobKeeper has been nothing but a help to the people on it.

The rules required those who had previously been paid more than JobKeeper to stay on their old wage, with the rest topped up by their employer. Those who had previously been paid less (one quarter of them) got a pay rise.

It’ll be less rewarding from the end of September. That’s when it’ll fall to $1,200 per fortnight for people who had previously been working 20 hours or more hours per week, and $750 per fortnight for people who had previously been working less than that.




Read more:
Bowing out gracefully: how they’ll wind down and better target JobKeeper


At the same time, the temporary coronavirus supplement paid to Australians on JobSeeker and other benefits will fall from $550 a fortnight to just $250.

Those receiving only the full-time JobKeeper rate can expect their incomes to fall by 20%. Those on the part-time rate can expect their income to halve.

But the good news is that at least some will be able to top up their incomes by applying for JobSeeker.

JobKeeper and JobSeeker

Many will be able to apply to recieve both.

They will need to satisfy the assets test for JobSeeker, which is being re-imposed from September 25. It will deny JobSeeker to single homeowners with assets of more than $268,000 in addition to their home, and to single non-home owners with assets of more than $482,500.

They would also need to wait for a reimposed liquid assets waiting period of between one and 13 weeks, depending how much money they have in their bank accounts.

Their partners would need to earn less than $3,068 a fortnight, or roughly $80,000 a year.

And they will be required to make at least one phone or online appointment per week with an employment services provider.

Up to $554 on top of JobKeeper

Our calculations suggest that under the new rules from late September, such a person on the part-time JobKeeper rate of $750 a fortnight should be able to claim up to an extra $554 in JobSeeker – taking their total income to $1,304 per fortnight – only $196 per fortnight less than they got when JobKeeper was $1,500 per fortnight.

It gets better. Even people getting the new lower full-time JobKeeper rate of $1,200 per fortnight will be able to get some JobSeeker if they fit through the hoops.

Our calculations suggest they will be eligible for up to $284 per fortnight JobSeeker top-up, taking their total income to $1,484 for fortnight, only $16 per fortnight less than they are receiving now.


Grattan Institue calculations.


It gets better still. If they pass through the hoops, they will also become eligible for other benefits such as a Commonwealth Health Care Card, Family Tax Benefit part A if they have kids, and rent assistance if renting.

The treasury believes 245,000 Australians will be on both JobKeeper and JobSeeker by the end of the year.

You’ll have to apply

One of the virtues of the original JobKeeper was that, from the point of view of the recipient, it was automatic. Once their employer decided to apply for it, there was nothing else they needed to do.

As JobKeeper is phased down and JobSeeker returns to its traditional role of supporting Australians on low incomes, there will be a lot more they need to do.

Some won’t bother, and some won’t succeed, but at least until the end of the year it’ll be possible for some Australians on JobKeeper to get more or less what they were getting before.

It’s less good for those pushed out of work

It’s worth sparing a thought for those that will lose their jobs as JobKeeper winds down.

In October, employers wanting to stay on JobKeeper will have to be retested and approved, and in January retested and approved again.




Read more:
JobSeeker supplement cut from $550 to $250 a fortnight after September


Many will miss out. Retesting is expected to reduce the number of workers on JobKeeper by 60% over the last three months of this year and by a further ten percentage points over the first three months of next year.

If those whose lose JobKeeper also lose their jobs — and many will — they’ll have to make do with the much lower JobSeeker payment of about $825 a fortnight, not much more than half of the $1,500 a fortnight they had.


Grattan Institue calculations.


Treasury expects 1.5 million people to be on JobSeeker by the end of the year.

It expects some 245,000 to recieve both JobSeeker and JobKeeper. That will leave around 1.25 million to get by on the lower JobSeeker alone.The Conversation

Brendan Coates, Program Director, Household Finances, Grattan Institute and Jonathan Nolan, Associate, Grattan Institute

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.