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'Terribly Shocking': PM 'Devastated' Over 600,000 Jobs Lost In Lockdown

Millions of Australians are relying on government payments and subsidies, with coronavirus tanking Australia's employment rate.

Employment figures have not crashed as hard as expected, with some rare good news giving confidence to Australia's coronavirus response.

The latest national jobs figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics showed unemployment hit 6.2 percent in April -- up 1.0 points from the month before but lower than expected.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Image: AAP

Projections had predicted unemployment would spike above eight percent, which has not come to pass, but it has been revealed six million Australians are now being supported through the JobKeeper wage subsidy, with a further 1.6 million on JobSeeker and Youth Allowance welfare payments.

In addition, the ABS said nearly half a million people had simply stopped looking for work, or had not been able to.

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"This is a tough day for Australia. A very tough day. Almost 600,000 jobs have been lost," Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Thursday.

"Every one of them devastating for those Australians, for their families, for their communities. A very tough day. Terribly shocking, although not unexpected."

While the lower than expected unemployment numbers will be cause for some celebration, that raw figure doesn't tell the whole story.

In the same period, underemployment -- people still in work, but getting fewer hours than they want -- spiked 4.9 percent.

The underutilisation rate, the combination of under and unemployment, went up 5.9 to 19.9 percent.

Job cuts have particularly hit hard in those industries where younger people are employed, such as hospitality and retail.

"Employment for 15-24 year olds decreased by 213,500 people (-10.8%)," the ABS said.

Morrison said the government's JobKeeper program had been instrumental in keeping unemployment lower than expected.

"The reason that people have been able to stay connected to their employers has been because of the JobKeeper program and clearly the JobKeeper program has been incredibly effective," he said.

The ABS said total hours worked fell by more than nine percent between March and April.

"When taken together with people leaving the workforce, around 2.7 million people (about 1 in 5 people employed in March) either left employment or had their hours reduced between March and April. This was much greater than in previous years," the ABS said.

While unemployment ticked up by 100,000 people, more than 594,000 jobs were lost. This, the ABS explained, was because many people who lost their jobs were not in a position to start looking for one -- with the official 'unemployment' rate only counting people who were actually in the labour force and available to work.

This came as the participation rate, the proportion of the population actively participating in the labour market, fell 2.4 points to 63.5 percent.

“The large drop in employment did not translate into a similar-sized rise in the number of unemployed people because around 489,800 people left the labour force”, said Bjorn Jarvis, head of labour statistics at the ABS.

“This means there was a high number of people without a job who didn’t or couldn’t actively look for work or weren’t available for work."

More to come.

Contact the author: jobutler@networkten.com.au