The Illawarra is piling on jobs at record levels, but it's a different story in the Hunter.
The Hunter's unemployment rate remains similar to the national average, but far fewer people are in work compared with two years ago.
Australian Bureau of Statistics estimates published on Thursday show the Hunter jobless rate at 4.7 per cent in June, though the bureau again flagged the figure as statistically unreliable.
The national unemployment rate dipped to 4.9 per cent last week, and the Hunter rate has been below 5 per cent for the past five months.
But the seemingly rosy jobless rate hides a worrying drop in the Hunter's labour force, which includes the number of people either working or looking for work.
The labour force was 333,000 in June, well below the 361,000 of June 2019.
The Newcastle and Lake Macquarie labour force participation rate is just 62 per cent, well below the 66 per cent national average and a disturbing 7.5 points lower than it was two years ago.
The number of Hunter people in work in June was 317,000, much better than the 295,000 low point of September 2020 but down 11,000 on May and still well below the 340,000 workers of two years ago.
In short, the statistics suggest the region has recovered only half the jobs it has lost during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The number of people in the unemployment queue is back to pre-COVID levels at 15,000, but the ABS figures suggest tens of thousands of unemployed people in the Hunter have opted not to look for paid work.
This is despite a near-record number of job ads in the region in June.
The National Skills Commission's Internet Vacancy Index shows the three-month moving average of job advertisements in the Hunter at 5262, down only slightly from the 5323 record in May.
Hunter Research Foundation Centre economist Dr Anthea Bill said the high vacancy rates reflected a "national story" due in part to the pause in skilled immigration during the coronavirus pandemic.
The national and NSW labour force participation rates are back to their pre-COVID levels, but the Hunter's remains stubbornly low.
The effect of COVID on the number of people in work in Newcastle is in stark contrast to the virus' impact in the Illawarra.
In the region encompassing Wollongong, the number of people in work barely dipped at all during the first months of lockdowns.
The ABS estimates show the region reached a record high of 156,800 people in work in July last year and has not dropped below that level since then, recording 12 consecutive months of unprecedented job numbers.
In June 2021, 157,000 people were in work in the Illawarra, 5000 more than in June 2019 and 10,000 more than in March last year.