Sunday, April 20, 2003

Who are Australia’s working underclass?

Ending her article poised in that old, mid-Atlantic place of abstraction, Liz Porter fails to ask, much less find out, the home truth about Australia’s working poor.

My guess as to why – apart from the obvious fact that no journalist has yet gone undercover to write a definitive Australian account, for Liz to then highlight – is that Australia’s working poor have mutated into a non-traditional gender and age group: the male and young.

A recent article: Michael Cave, “Unskilled, unloved and underemployed”, Australian Financial Review 15 April 2003 (no free URL) gives out some stats in support of this. By combining this stat – that 42% percent of 25-44 yo Australian men live on less than $32,000 a year – with the unemployment rate, it can be seen that most of these poor are working, at least part-time. Indeed, Ian Watson (no relation), a researcher with the Australian Centre for Industrial Relations, Research and Training, says that “the most severely disadvantaged group are young men on casual or intermittent part-time work”.

Crunching this stat a bit further with Watson’s “young men” observation, it would seem almost certain that the 25-44 yo age spread contains a lopsided truth within – were it to be subdivided into deciles, I would guess that over half of 2001’s 25-34 year old men would have scraped by on less than $32,000, while the same would be true for about a third of the 35-44 yo group.

Sobering stuff – and despite the first word in the title of Michael Cave’s article, being in the young male underclass is not particularly a function of one’s educational level. As a graph within the article shows, the wage premium for having finished Year 12 (as opposed to Year 10 or below) is dramatically higher for the 35-44 yo group that the 25-34 yo one. For 25-34 yo graduates, the wage premium is probably flatter still.

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