There's been a lot of talk lately from politicians about how difficult or not it is to find a job in regional areas. The facts are pretty clear.
When you take a look at the job vacancy numbers and listen to people's stories, it's clear to see that finding a job or enough paid hours in a regional town is no easy task.
This is especially true for older people, single parents, people with disability or illness, and those without training, qualifications or experience.
While nationally we are seeing job numbers begin to recover from the pandemic-induced recession of last year, the recovery is uneven across the country.
Nationally, for each job vacancy, there are nine people looking for paid work or more hours.
In regional Australia, the situation is worse, with most of the new jobs coming online based in major cities: 70 per cent of job vacancies on internet sites are for jobs in the capitals.
And where there are jobs available in regional areas, there are also plenty of people searching for them.
More than half a million people in regional areas across the country are looking for paid work.
Many are feeling the severe financial distress of payment cuts and fewer job opportunities.
We also know that rents have gone up in many regional areas, as a result of the exodus away from the larger cities last year, adding to this distress.
What's making the situation far more severe for people are the federal government's continual cuts to income support including the JobSeeker payment.
Last year, when the pandemic first hit our shores the government did the right thing by doubling the JobSeeker payment.
Before that it was called Newstart and hadn't been increased in more than a quarter of a century. It was sitting at just $40 a day.
Once the JobSeeker rate was doubled, individuals and families were able to afford their rent.
They could buy fresh fruit and vegetables, visit the dentist, and catch up on bills.
But since then, the government has regularly cut back the payment so that people are again having to face impossible decisions about whether they will be able to feed their family and continue living in their home.
And it hasn't ruled back going back to the brutal old Newstart rate. It's no surprise this insecurity is wreaking havoc on people's mental health.
On top of the social impacts, it's bad news for regional economies.
Economic modelling shows that providing people with enough to cover the basics, to shop in local stores, generates new jobs, which in turn helps to reduce unemployment.
It's clear that regional communities need more jobs and that people want to take them up.
Take Cliff in regional Victoria for example, who had a well-paid job as an interstate truck driver, before he suffered a heart attack ending his driving career in his 50s. While he has been able to pick up some casual cleaning work, he's continually searching for more hours in the hope he doesn't have to rely on the JobSeeker payment to get by.
Then there's Steven on the NSW mid-north coast who is a qualified ship builder and has experience managing large projects. He had to stop doing physically demanding work because he developed lung disease from breathing in fine particles at work, making it harder to land a job.
For politicians to say that it's easy to get a job if people just get off the couch is really insulting and out-of-touch to people like Cliff and Steven and hundreds of thousands of others in their position.
JobSeeker is now just $51 a day, which is under half the amount of the full-time minimum wage.
People want jobs but there are just not enough, and jobs available require particular skills and abilities.
In 2019, well before the recession, 45 per cent of employers surveyed reported recruitment difficulties (mostly because applicants lacked the skills required).
Back then the Newstart allowance (now known as JobSeeker) was $40 a day, so over-generous income support wasn't the reason. In the latest employer survey, 16 per cent of all employers had recruitment problems and just 5 per cent had trouble recruiting due to a general lack of applicants.
To recover from the COVID recession, governments must focus on job creation, especially in regional Australia, and also ensure the rate of JobSeeker is enough so that people who haven't yet secured paid work can cover the basics to see them through.
Dr Cassandra Goldie is the CEO of the Australian Council of Social Service.
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