Open Letter From Economists and Policy Experts: Wage Subsidy to Protect Jobs During Pandemic

109 Australian economists and policy experts have signed an open letter, initiated by the Centre for Future Work, supporting a government wage subsidy to prevent mass unemployment during the coming economic downturn resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The letter and the full list of signatories is reprinted below. It has been forwarded to Prime Minister Morrison.

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Responding to the Economic Emergency

The scale and scope of the economic downturn caused by COVID-19 will be unprecedented in our lifetimes. Mainstream economists have belatedly realised the pandemic will cause an economic downturn, but they are not yet appreciating the size of that downturn, nor the unconventional responses that will be required. Simply calling for government "stimulus" is sadly inadequate, given the complete shut-down of work and production that is occurring in many sectors of the economy. The task is no longer supporting markets with incremental "pump-priming." What's needed is a war-like effort, led by government, to mobilise every possible resource to protect Australians' health and livelihoods. Money is not an object - and this epic effort should not be held back by normal acquiescence to private-sector priorities and decisions.

That's the core message of new analysis by Centre for Future Work Director Dr. Jim Stanford, published today by the Australian journal New Matilda.

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Financialisation and the Productivity Slowdown

There has been much discussion in recent months about the apparent slowdown in Australian productivity growth. Rather than dredging up the usual wish-list of the business community (more deregulation, more privatisation, and more deunionisation), it's time to look at the deeper, structural factors behind stagnant productivity. In this commentary, Dr. Anis Chowdhury, Associate of the Centre for Future Work, looks to the perverse role of our overdeveloped financial sector in slowing down productivity-enhancing investment and innovation.

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Seminar Presentation: Superannuation & Wages in Australia

Centre for Future Work Director Jim Stanford gave a seminar presentation in Sydney on 21 November based on his research paper about the historical and empirical relationship between superannuation contributions and wage growth. Watch a summary version of his talk below. The full paper is posted at: The Relationship Between Superannuation Contributions and Wages in Australia.


Young Workers are "Shock Troops" of Precarious Labour Market

Dr. Jim Stanford, Director of the Centre for Future Work, appeared before the National Youth Commission on 31 October in Sydney to discuss the challenges facing young workers in Australia's labour market.

The National Youth Commission into Youth Employment and Transitions has been holding an inquiry in communities across Australia to document the situation of young workers, who are experiencing much lower rates of employment and income than other workers.

Stanford's submission argued that young workers are like the "shock troops" of the precarious labour market: the ones sent in first to confront an especially dangerous situation. The rise of precarious work in all its forms - part-time work, casual jobs, labour hire, temporary positions, marginal self-employment, and digitally mediated 'gigs' - now dominates youth employment patterns. And that situation will not automatically disappear as young workers get older and gain experience. Rather, evidence suggests that without policy measures to stabilise and improve jobs, this will be a permanent shift that gradually affects most workers. Already, less than half of employed Australians are working in a 'traditional' full-time permanent wages jobs with normal entitlements (like paid holidays, sick leave, and superannuation). For young workers, that ratio is less than one in five.

Stanford argued for targeted measures to stimulate more youth hiring into stable positions, an ambitious effort to rebuild vocational education in Australia and strengthen pipelines to post-education jobs, and a broader commitment to full-employment macroeconomic policy.

Please see the full Centre for Future Work submission.


Job Opportunity: Research Economist

The Centre for Future Work invites applications for an economist to join our research team in labour market research and policy analysis. The position may be at a junior or senior level, and the successful candidate may work from our offices in either Sydney or Canberra.

Application details below:

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Paid Parental Leave for Fathers Advances Parental Equality

Rising pressure on individuals and families to meet their caring needs is the “human face” of decline in workplace protections and bargaining power that has gathered pace since 2013. Meanwhile, the need for fathers and male spouses to take on more caring and household labour is routinely discussed in the public domain. But how have Australia’s work/care policies worked to support a redistribution of caring and household labour to males and fathers?

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Surprise: Newstart Doesn't Cause Unemployment!

Australia's Newstart benefit hasn't been increased in real terms in a generation, and pressure is growing on the Commonwealth government to address this inequity and raise the rate. Even RBA Governor Philip Lowe has indicated that better Newstart benefits would stimulate consumer spending and support the economy.

But the government continues to reject the idea, and instead has fostered lamentable and divisive rhetoric about "dole bludgers" and the supposed lack of "aspiration" among unemployed Australians. Old stereotypes about unemployed people choosing to subsist on poverty-level benefits, instead of looking for work, have been invoked.

In this guest commentary, Prof. Raja Junankar of UNSW University shows that keeping the Newstart Allowance constant in real terms at a poverty level does not help the unemployed find jobs more rapidly. Despite rock-bottom benefits that have declined notably relative to average wages, long-term unemployment has increased -- including among vulnerable groups of workers (like younger and older workers).

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'Stuck-in-the-Mud' Workers Not to Blame for Wage Stagnation

The Commonwealth Treasury raised eyebrows recently with a new research report that seemed to pin the blame for record-weak wage increases on workers' reluctance to quit their jobs in search of better-paying alternatives. The report was presented to the recent conference of the Economic Society of Australia, and elicited gleeful headlines in conservative newspapers blaming "stubborn" workers for their own poor wage results.

In this commentary, which originally appeared in 10 Daily, Dr Jim Stanford argues that Treasury has mis-identified the true source of the problem. With so few decent job opportunities available, it's rational that many workers would choose to stick with their current jobs - despite stagnant wages and poor conditions.

Here is the full commentary:

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Minimum Wage to Rise 3% for 2019-20

The Fair Work Commission has announced a 3% hike in Australia’s national Minimum Wage, effective July 1, taking it to $19.49 per hour. That increase is lower than the 3.5% increase implemented last year.

In our judgment, this is inadequate to meet the needs of low-wage workers -- and the needs of Australia's macroeconomy.

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