Newcastle's official unemployment rate remains 2 per cent higher than the NSW jobless figure, nine months after COVID-19 tipped the labour market on its head.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics labour force survey for November puts the Newcastle and Lake Macquarie jobless rate at 8.4 per cent, a rise of 0.4 percentage points since October.
The city's unemployment rate has been trending down since peaking at 11 per cent in June but has not come close to the state figure, which was 6.0 per cent in November, or 6.5 per cent seasonally adjusted.
The number of Newcastle people in the labour force, either in work or looking for it, also remains well below pre-virus levels at 195,500. A year ago it was 210,000.
The 63.1 workforce participation rate, which includes people looking for jobs while on the dole, is 4.7 percentage points lower than it was a year ago and worse than the state rate of 65.7.
If the 14,500 people who have left the labour market in the past year were counted as unemployed, the Newcastle jobless rate would be almost 16 per cent.
The JobKeeper wage subsidy is also keeping some workers employed artificially, at least until March.
The jobless rate in the rest of the Hunter was 6.5 per cent in November, though the ABS flagged this figure as unreliable due to a small sample size.
Labour force participation in the Hunter outside Newcastle is 9700 below the November 2019 figure, suggesting the true unemployment rate is also much higher than the official number suggests.
Across the Hunter, including Newcastle, 304,100 people were in work in November, a fall of 31,700 compared with a year earlier, and the jobless rate was 7.6 per cent.
Men and women have left the Hunter labour market in roughly equal numbers.
It is unclear why the labour force has shrunk so dramatically in the Hunter but not in the rest of NSW.
The state's labour force has grown slightly, from 4.308 million to 4.363 million, since November last year.
In Wollongong, the labour force is up from 157,200 to 175,500 in a year and the jobless rate is 6.3 per cent.
Hunter Research Foundation Centre economist Dr Anthea Bill said the "relatively strong decline" in Hunter labour force participation was consistent with the region's greater job losses.
"If the recently unemployed do not feel job opportunities are present, they may be discouraged from actively looking for work and withdraw from the labour market," she said.
Dr Bill said the region had a slightly higher proportion of older workers, some of whom had likely abandoned the labour market.
She said lower property prices in Newcastle, compared with Sydney and Wollongong, might have allowed households' secondary income earners to leave the workforce.
The Hunter has enjoyed a jobless rate on par with or below the NSW rate in recent years after decades of relatively high unemployment.
IN THE NEWS