Economic update shows Hunter's healthy

THE Hunter’s workforce increased by more than 8000 people in the March quarter and unemployment dropped to 4.9 per cent the Hunter Valley Research Foundation revealed yesterday.

Director of Research Simon Deeming unveiled the statistics at today's economic update and they showed the Hunter is in a healthy state.

Unemployment had risen from 3.5 per cent to 4.9 per cent from the December quarter but over the last 12 months, the stronger indicator, it had fallen from 5.1 per cent.

Mr Deeming said the labour force in the Hunter was in a strong position but he highlighted the skills shortage that has been troubling the region since the region’s resources boom.

‘‘There are still companies trying to hire workers but they can’t because they don’t have the necessary skills for the jobs,’’ Mr Deeming said.

‘‘There are others that don’t have enough turnover to keep their workers on the books but what we’re seeing is increased support for the weaker sectors like retail.’’

Interest rate cuts by the Reserve Bank of Australia in November and December last year created positive signs for the Hunter’s housing market and Mr Deeming said last week’s cut was likely to continue that trend.

Residential building approvals were down five per cent in the Hunter compared to the state average of seven per cent but there is still work to do.

‘‘Affordability is still not as good as it used to be a while ago but it’s better than more recent surveys,’’ Mr Deeming said.

‘‘It’s going to take a hell of a lot more to kick start the housing sector but there are some encouraging signs.’’

Statistics showed business confidence was weak and the challenges facing the construction industry were also being felt by other sectors.

The number of passenger vehicle registrations rose dramatically by 21.4 per cent in the last quarter.

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