And there is evidence that the birth rate has fallen again. The number of babies registered in the first three months of 2022 decreased by around 1% compared to the first three months of 2021 and by 13.4% compared to the first three months of 2020.
The Federal Treasury projects that the fertility rate will rebound to 1.66 and remain there for the next two years. But the way things are going, that this is happening seems doubtful.
When you add it all up and add the idea that the state’s population is aging, Victoria could be a demographic time bomb, without enough workers to keep the place afloat for decades to come.
Skills shortages are already particularly acute in the health sector, with Victoria now struggling to compete internationally for nurses, doctors and other healthcare professionals amid global shortages.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, there were 101,800 vacancies in Victoria in February. That’s more than double the 42,100 positions available two years earlier, in February 2020, just before the pandemic really started to bite.
Premier Daniel Andrews, at a press conference in Ballarat on Tuesday, was only too happy to oblige when asked if he knew the state’s unemployment rate.
“In regional Victoria it’s 3%,” he said. “It’s 4.2% statewide, just a bit above the overall [national] Number.”
Andrews says he doesn’t like to talk about full employment. But if it’s not full employment, it’s certainly close.
Low unemployment is a good problem to have. Among other things, after years of anemic wage growth, it means workers are finally likely to get decent pay rises as employers struggle to attract staff.
But it’s also a sign that Victoria needs to pay more attention to the demographic challenges she currently faces.
At the federal level, Prime Minister Scott Morrison promises 1.3 million new jobs over five years. Morrison estimates he can do this without lifting the permanent migration cap, which for the next fiscal year is set at 160,000 new permanent migrations, including 109,900 people through the skilled migration stream.
For Morrison and Andrews, it’s all a happy time. Both men will experience low unemployment when they face voters. But beyond the federal election on May 21 and the national election on November 26, these challenges will not go away.
At some point, as a nation and as a state, we need to have a serious conversation that goes beyond managing our demographic challenges by simply cramming more people into the migration agenda.
This will mean that it will be easier for young families to have children by improving access to childcare services. And that will mean making it easier for people to enter the housing market, rather than facing a binary choice between children or property.
These are difficult problems to solve. Whether they can be addressed in the current political climate is another matter altogether.