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Long immune, Australia may finally feel unemployment strain

Kristina Keneally, premier of New South Wales, talks with miners from Cadia mine in Australia.

Steve Chiotakis: Australia has enjoyed a low unemployment rate during the entire global recession.

But, as Stuart Cohen reports from Sydney, all that could be changing.


Stuart Cohen: Australia's been called the wonder down under. The only advanced economy to escape recession during the global financial crisis, a booming mining industry, and an unemployment rate of only 5 percent have made Australia the envy of the western world.

But for months, critics have said the country is relying on a two-speed economy, where workers and wages in mining jobs far outpace the rest of the economy. And now Heather Ridout of the Australian Industry Group thinks the tide could be turning on Australia's enviable job market.

Heather Ridout: We've actually lost about 20,000 jobs since February this year in the manufacturing sector. And they're 100 here and 20 there and 30 there, and then you have a big one like Bluescope Steel and you get 1,000 or 1,400 in one day. And that makes people sit and look up.

Thousands more cuts in construction, retail and other industries have been announced in the few months and that has some workers worried for the first time in years.

Brenda Gradwell: I took a year off and I'm quite happy to be staying in the work force right now, if i can. I don't want to be without an income.

Brenda Gradwell just returned to work in April. After only four weeks of looking she had two job offers from government agencies eager to make use of her decade of private sector skills. But now even the state government she works for has announced 5,000 job cuts in its latest budget.

Even with jobs, a lot of Australians are having trouble making ends meet, as high wages in the mining sector fuel inflation that hits everyone else. New data just released shows Australians are spending half their income on just the basics of living -- housing, food and transportation.

In Sydney, I'm Stuart Cohen for Marketplace.

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