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The COVID-19 Labour Market Shift And The Implications For Housing

Posted on 16 April 2020

Source: Corelogic

The economic slowdown resultant from COVID-19 has changed working conditions for many. But quantifying the impact on labour markets at this stage is difficult.

The latest unemployment data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics does not tell us much about how the labour market has changed. That is because labour market data is not real time, but instead references the first two weeks of the previous month to the data release date.

The start of the economic slowdown was not felt until halfway through March 2020, meaning unless the survey methods are altered, regular labour force data will not show an impact until the May edition. However, there are some things we already know about Australia's labour force that provides insight into how property markets may be particularly affected.

Many workers are having their hours reduced

On April 7th, the ABS released new survey results on the impact of COVID-19 on businesses. Approximately 1,200 business representatives responded, revealing changes that had been made to the workforce. Of the actively trading businesses surveyed, about a quarter reported reducing staff hours over the past few weeks.

Reduced staff working hours is an early response businesses typically adopt during a downturn, with a view to preserving jobs.

Food and accommodation is more precarious for both housing and employment

When governments rolled out international travel restrictions, closed state borders and banned unnecessary travel as well as closing pubs, restaurants and casinos along with a variety of other facilities it was clear that the tourism and hospitality sectors would be some of the hardest-hit sectors. However, it is still striking that 70% of food and accommodation employers reported a reduction in staff hours. Food and accommodation employs about 8% of the workforce, or about 1.2 million people. This is where a more granular view of employment data can highlight risks to the property market.

The detailed quarterly survey data provides insight into what industry residents work in, at the SA4 level. The February edition suggests that most food and accommodation workers are highly concentrated in Sydney's Inner West, followed by the Sunshine Coast and the Coffs Harbour-Grafton region.

The risk to demand-side factors for property is particularly susceptible in areas of high employment in food and accommodation, as the sector typically has more 'precarious' work arrangements. About 62% of those employed in the sector are employed on a part time basis, compared with the broader workforce, where 32% of staff are employed part time.

Interestingly, some of these areas also have more precarious housing arrangements, with higher portions of rental housing than ownership. In Sydney's Inner West, 35.4% of households are estimated to be renting households, as opposed to 31% nationally. This means that lesser hours in food and accommodation services may affect property values indirectly, because value estimates may be reconsidered based on rental return. For Hobart, where 9.3% of the population are employed in food and accommodation, the CoreLogic home value index shows there has already been a drop in dwelling values, of -0.2% in March.

However, it is worth noting that the Hobart market was arguably due for correction even before the onset of COVID-19, having seen annualised capital growth of 7.7% each year for the past 5 years to March 2020. Therefore, even though high concentrations of food and accommodation employment are indicative of greater risk to the property market, ongoing assessment of price and employment shifts will be necessary to isolate the full impact of COVID-19 on values.

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