Jobless rate drops for sixth straight month to 5.6pc
The unemployment rate fell from 5.8 per cent to 5.6 per cent, as the economy added a further 70,700 jobs in March, marking the sixth consecutive monthly rise in employment.
In the final month before the end of JobKeeper, full-time employment fell by 20,800, while part-time employment jumped by 91,500, the seasonally adjusted figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics showed.
The labour market has recouped all of its COVID-related losses, with total employment climbing to 13,077,600 in March.
Underemployment, which measures those with work but who would like to do more but are unable to find the additional hours, dropped a sharp 0.6 percentage points to 7.9 per cent and its lowest level since 2014.
Total monthly hours worked across the economy increased by 2.2 per cent, surpassing pre-COVID levels for the first time since the recession and hitting a record high.
The jobless rate would have fallen further were it not for a lift in the participation rate, which climbed from 66.1 per cent in February to 66.3 per cent in the latest release, also setting a new record.
Westpac economist Robert Rennie said the latest numbers were "pretty stellar".
Still, the unemployment rate remained well above the 5.1 per cent recorded in February last year as recouping the jobs lost during the recession has not been enough to make up for the natural growth in the workforce, despite a collapse in immigration.
Queensland and Western Australia led the March jobs growth, with employment in both states now well above pre-COVID levels.
In contrast, employment appears to have plateaued in NSW, Victoria and, most recently, South Australia at or below their pre-pandemic levels, BIS Oxford Economics chief economist Sarah Hunter said.
Ms Hunter said NSW and Victoria's "exposure to international students and tourists is an ongoing drag, and labour market outcomes in both states could worsen over the very near term as the impact of the end of JobKeeper comes through the data".
The March figures failed to match the blockbuster numbers from February, when the jobless rate dropped by half a percentage point and the economy created 88,700 jobs, but still came in well ahead of 35,000 additional jobs estimated by economists leading into the latest release.
Forward indicators of labour demand, including job vacancies and survey employment intentions among firms, suggest the unemployment rate will continue to fall over coming months.
NAB this week estimated the jobless measure would reach 5 per cent by the end of this year. Economists and policymakers have warned, however, that the end of JobKeeper could halt the downward trend in unemployment, at least for a month or two.
Treasury has estimated that up to 150,000 jobs could be lost when the wage subsidy scheme ends.
ABS head of labour statistics Bjorn Jarvis said next month's jobs numbers, along with weekly payroll jobs data, "will show the state of the labour market after the end of JobKeeper".
Originally published as Jobless rate drops for 6th straight month, to 5.6pc