Australia Bureau of Statistics data has confirmed the massive economic hit from the COVID-19 pandemic, with total hours worked across the economy officially falling 9% between early March and early April 2020.
Our analysis, using data from the quarterly ANUpoll, suggests the self-employed have been hit harder, with average weekly hours dropping by almost a third between February and April 2020. More than eight out of 10 self-employed Australians say their profits have taken a significant hit.
Decline in hours worked for the self employed
The ANUpoll is an important economic and social barometer in Australia because it is a longitudinal survey – polling the same group of people multiple times throughout the year. This enables a more accurate snapshot of how individuals are being affected.
The data we are releasing today was collected from 3,155 Australians between April 14 and April 27.
It shows the 32% drop in hours worked by the self-employed (from 35.2 to 23.8 hours) was about double that of all employees, whose hours declined by 16% (from 35.5 to 29.7 hours).
The following infographic illustrates the degree of decline for all the self-employed in the poll (about 240 people). The blue dots above the red line show those working more hours in April; those below the line show those working less. Note the number at or near zero.
Almost a third said their business would be unviable if financial trends continued for two months. If trends persisted for six months, 40% doubted they could survive.
The impact on savings and wellbeing
The proportion of self-employed saying they were finding it difficult or very difficult to survive on their current income increased from 29% to 36%.
This contrasts with an aggregate improvement among employees, most likely due to higher payments for those on lower incomes, such as the A$750 given to social security recipients.
21% of self-employed respondents said they had accessed retirement savings or superannuation early, compared with 7% of employees.
Among those thinking their business was unviable, 69% reported feeling anxious and worried, compared with 59% of those thinking their business was viable. Life satisfaction was also lower (5.6 out 10 compared to 7.0).
What does this mean for the self-employed in 2020?
Current policies includes a large amount of targeted assistance for the self-employed. Without that assistance, the outcomes summarised above would be far worse.
As physical distancing restrictions are eased, it will be important to continue to monitor how the self-employed are faring to ensure the level of government support is sufficient and well-targeted.