The Illawarra's accommodation, food and education sectors remain the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Regional Development Australia's Illawarra branch.
During a briefing on Wednesday, policy manager Alex Spillett revealed there were 2728 fewer people in work at the end of February, 2021 than there were in March 2020. Unemployment in the region is now estimated to be at 7.5 per cent.
There were 1498 fewer working in accommodation and food, 723 fewer in construction, 525 fewer in education and training, 514 fewer in transport, postal and warehousing, 418 fewer in manufacturing, 309 fewer in retail, 219 fewer in art and recreation, 197 fewer in professional, scientific and technical, 102 fewer in information, media and telecommunications and 99 fewer in rental, hiring and real estate.
However there were 927 more people employed in public, administration and safety, 755 more in health care and social assistance, 227 more in financial and insurance services and 95 more in mining.
Mr Spillett showed a graph revealing how the biggest drop in employment occurred last April. Jobs growth then slowed significantly when the second wave of COVID-19 hit Victoria and fell dramatically in December when Sydney and Wollongong went back into lockdown.
He said a fortnightly analysis of Illawarra jobs data from all sectors of the economy showed youth employment remained an issue, recovery of roles for female workers was stronger than for males but more women lost jobs at the start of COVID. Older workers had successfully retained employment, fewer people were commuting and population growth has stalled along with migration.
Mr Spillett revealed overseas migrants accounted for a large percentage of population growth in Wollongong and international students account for some of those. It was uncertain what the impact of lower population growth because of COVID would have on regional economic development.
Looking at COVID's impact on commuting habits there has been a 48 per cent reduction in train trips and a 3.0 per cent reduction in road movements. Given more than 23,000 people commuted daily prior to the pandemic that was considered an indication of just how many commuters either stopped working or started working from home.
It was uncertain what the long-term impact of changes in commuting behaviour and more people working from home would have on CBD recovery, commercial space, retail and food services.
Following the briefing there were as many questions as answers. During a Q&A led by RDA Illawarra chief executive Debra Murphy, it was felt only time would tell what the long-term impact of the pandemic would be on the region. No one was certain what would happen to many businesses in the tourism and hospitality sector with the end of JobKeeper.
Mr Spillett said the percentage of Illawarra businesses that registered for JobKeeper was similar to the rest of NSW and Australia. And by January the number of businesses claiming JobKeeper had fallen by 65 per cent.
He said Treasury had estimated 150,000 people had effectively become unemployed with the end of JobKeeper. Local information indicates 50 per cent of businesses in the hospitality industry may fold without extended government support.
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