Monash research shows suburbs most impacted by COVID-19 employment vulnerability
Although the social and economic impacts of COVID-19 have been far reaching, impacting every Australian, those suburbs where there is a lack of diversity in employment types have been some of the most vulnerable, new research from Monash University has found.
The education sector, of which early childhood education and care (ECEC) is a part, has been noted as being part of the most vulnerable employment communities in Victoria, concentrated in Melbourne’s inner suburbs. Around 30 per cent of vulnerable workers living in the inner suburbs work in arts, entertainment, and education sectors/industries.
Across Australia, the most vulnerable employment areas include shopping districts (Chadstone and Highpoint Shopping Centres in Melbourne); university districts, and cultural and recreation areas such as Sydney’s Paddington-Moore Park (Fox Studios, Entertainment Quarter, Paddington Markets) and Hillarys (Westfield, AQWA Aquarium) in Perth being among the most at risk.
The researchers responsible for compiling the report anticipate a second wave of COVID-19 employment vulnerability to hit in September 2020, when the Federal Government’s JobKeeper program expires.
Titled “Navigating Economic Uncertainty in Post-Covid Cities: Employment Vulnerability and Resilience in Australian Capital Cities” , the report has been co-authored by Professor Carl Grodach and Declan Martin.
The researchers found a first wave of COVID-19 employment vulnerability came about due to social distancing and travel restrictions, predominantly impacting consumer, travel, and community services including accommodation, food services, transportation, arts, recreation, entertainment, and non-essential healthcare services, as well as ECEC when parents withdrew children based on concerns about not only COVID infection, but also costs.
A second wave of COVID-19 employment vulnerability, which researchers expect to hit in September 2020, when the Federal Government’s JobKeeper program expires, may also impact on the ECEC sector, with businesses reporting uptake of the Federal JobKeeper program (e.g. administrative support services, construction, manufacturing) experiencing employment declines, as business are further weakened by slow local demand and investment (e.g. construction and real estate) or continued disruption of global export and supply chains (e.g. manufacturing, mining) under future COVID-19 outbreaks or protracted recession.
While the economic burden of COVID-19 restrictions impacts most on service workers, particularly those who manage to live in the high cost, jobs-rich inner suburbs, a smaller share of vulnerable workers live in the outer suburbs, with these communities being home to more people that work in low-wage, part-time vulnerable employment.
The report found 66.7 per cent of low and very low-income vulnerable workers live in the outer suburbs compared to 47 per cent in the inner suburbs and 60.5 per cent of vulnerable workers who live in outer areas work part-time.
The most resilient places, researchers said, are those that contain a more diversified industrial employment mix and do not rely on any single industry or sector. In order to safeguard against future impacts, cities need to focus on building a more resilient and diverse job mix and reduce the dependence on a service-driven economy, they added.
By paying renewed attention to industrial land and mixed-use employment areas as well as investing in workforce programs linked to educational recovery, and supporting essential community infrastructure and employment hubs in the outer suburbs, Australia can steady itself against the pains of the recession and future economic shocks.
The report made the following recommendations, to support more equitable and resilient communities and address the lack of place-based economic diversity:
- Preserve existing inner and middle suburban industrial land, which plays a significant role in small enterprise start-up, firm expansion, and job creation. Inner and middle industrial districts provide a mix of flexible industrial buildings, allowing businesses to grow and add quality jobs in place.
- Develop mixed-use employment areas that incorporate light industrial production. Examples include the Commercial 3 Zone in Melbourne.
- Rethink the business mix in service-based retail areas and employment communities. Retail vacancy rates were growing prior to the pandemic and may accelerate as on-line retail grows.
- Support the interdependence between manufacturing and creative industries. Inner city areas are overly focused on cultural consumption resulting in low-road employment opportunities.
- Invest in workforce skills building programs tied to educational recovery in key areas like “essential manufacturing” (medical supplies, recycling, food) and communications technologies.
To access the report, please see here.