Anthony O’Donnell on ‘Unemployment in a Time of Full Employment’

From the end of World War II until 1974, Australia experienced unprecedented low rates of measured unemployment. With the exception of minor recessions in 1952/53 and 1961/62, the official unemployment rate did not exceed two per cent. Yet ironically it is in this period that we can discern the emergence and consolidation of an analytically and administratively rich and coherent discourse about unemployment: both how to count it and how to regulate the unemployed through a system of unemployment benefits.

How did this idea of unemployment happen, and why did it happen when it did? La Trobe Law School academic Anthony O’Donnell explores this question in an article titled ‘Unemployment in a Time of Full Employment’ in the latest issue of Labour History (2015, No 108).

He suggests the new mid-century statistical and administrative practices around unemployment were appropriate to the rhythms and reality of the postwar labour market. But their limits can be seen when we examine their application to married women and remote-area Indigenous Australians: people who were someway marginal to the new labour market order.

Marc Trabsky