Australian workers are now more worried about losing their jobs than at any time since Malcolm Turnbull became prime minister.

That’s the clear message in the unemployment expectations sub-index released as part of Westpac’s overall monthly Consumer Sentiment survey.

The overall headline survey showed a reversal of last month’s weakness as consumers seemed to adjust to 2016’s economic and market uncertainty better than most traders or investors

But it’s a very different outlook when it comes to the jobs market.

The unemployment expectations subindex rose 1.9% on the month to 145.35 (a higher reading means more Australian believe they might lose their job). That’s 7.7% higher than the October survey which enjoyed a massive fall, from 156.32 in September.

In some part that big fall in unemployment expectations back then was likely a result of the change of leadership when Malcolm Turnbull became prime minister. So this increase in unemployment expectations is likely to some unwind of that, but it’s also a recognition that the economy still faces some serious headwinds.

Justin Smirk, senior economist at Westpac, told Business Insider that survey respondents might be picking up that “it does appear a lot of labour market indicators suggest the labour force was running ahead of itself a bit in the second half of 2015 and is set for a bit a slowdown”.

Equally though, the state-based breakdown of unemployment expectations also shows the heavy hand of the end of the mining boom in the overall distribution of unemployment expectations across the nation.

Clearly it’s of benefit to be living in NSW, where unemployment expectations look close to the lowest levels this decade.

But to the extent that workers are employed in the businesses that are creating the jobs and so have a feel for what the “true” level of employment might be in the economy, as opposed to the survey measures the ABS uses, the Westpac sub-index might actually be saying the employment outlook has darkened.

Smirk wondered what this uptick in unemployment expectations and the possible peak in Westpac’s employment index is actually saying, asking:

“At this stage it is still a pause but is it a pause that refreshes or a rest before the storm?”


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