Nearly 600,000 Australians lost their jobs because the coronavirus shutdown took hold in April, the steepest monthly drop since records began over 40 years ago, data showed on Thursday.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) said 100,000 people filed for unemployment benefits, while an additional 500,000 left the workforce altogether.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison called the figures “terribly shocking”, with the ABS reporting the underutilisation rate — which combines unemployment and underemployment — reached a record high of 19.9 percent in April.
The ABS said 2.7 million people — or one in five Australian workers — either left the workforce or had their work hours reduced because the country recorded an “unprecedented fall” within the workforce participation rate to 63.5 percent. The drop by the participation rate meant unemployment rose one percentage 6.1%, well short of forecasts of over eight percent.
Just 12.4 million Australians now have jobs after the steepest monthly fall in job since the ABS began recording monthly data in 1978.
Morrison warned Australians to brace for harder economic news within the months ahead, adding: “A very tough day. Terribly shocking, although not unanticipated.
“We knew there would be hard news as the pandemic wreaks an impact on Australia as it is on countries all around the world.”
The Treasury has forecast the rate of unemployment will reach 10 percent within the June quarter.
Morrison said the amount of individuals now covered by Jobkeeper, a Aus$1,500-a-fortnight wage subsidy programme paid to staff via their employers, now exceeds six million.
Australia has been one amongst the foremost successful countries in containing COVID-19, with less than 7,000 confirmed cases and 100 deaths out of a population of 25 million.
But restrictions on travel, public gatherings and retail businesses have had a destructive effect on the economy, slashing some Aus$4 billion ($2.5 billion) per week from economic activity.
Parts of the country have started relaxing the restrictions, with some cafes, pubs and restaurants opening to small groups from Friday.