Back in the 1990s, when manufacturing was a much bigger source of employment than it is now and the Boomers were all still working age, the recession Australia experienced at the time had a noteworthy impact on the domestic vehicle manufacturing sector, along with many other sectors of employment.
A secondary factor for the auto sector was from 1984 when the Australian government decided that five domestic car makers was too many and they thought three would be the right number to sustain. None wanted to downsize or close their operations though, unless something forced them to.
The first to fall was Nissan, ceasing local production of completed vehicles in 1992 (happily, the casting plant is still going today) as a result of losing money for a decade and a significant fall in sales in 1991.
The other local car makers meanwhile, chugged along, only staying open as long as they did with financial aid from repeated government handouts (and high tariffs on imported vehicles back then helping their sales figures remain high enough to almost justify local production).
Another thing to keep in mind, as we work our way towards answering the headline, is the reason we got the Baby Bonus in mid-2002 was because the birth rate had been dropping. Think about how old those kids are now. Meanwhile we recently passed the halfway point of Boomers retiring. That is certainly one of the factors to explain why the overall unemployment rate has been so low (factors affecting migrant workers, whether permanent, seasonal or working holidaymakers, being another).
As for the car market today, with just a few very niche exceptions (like kit cars, which also normally use many imported and/or refurbished components) the light vehicles we can buy are all fully-imported.
The proportion of Australia's workforce now categorised as being in the services sector is nudging close to 90 per cent. Comparatively few are still in the manufacturing sector (6.3 per cent according to the federal government, and not all of them are the ones actually making stuff), and there's not that many in mining or agriculture either.
Meanwhile some old-school thinkers and money people seem to assume that a recession will mean job losses overall. But what if we were to have a recession because those jobs are vacant already and therefore less work can actually be done? Many industries are screaming out for workers. Have you noticed all the ads for jobs in mainstream places these days? More and more, businesses aren't advertising their products and services, they're advertising jobs.
I was in Newcastle recently and I saw ads for employment on billboards, covering the side of trams, and even on TV. One mechanic on the main road out of Newcastle had a job for a full-time mechanic advertised on the A-frame sign for passing motorists to see.
I even noticed when the V8 Supercars' pit reporters gave some PR job vacancies a plug during the broadcast of the Newcastle 500.
When the piece I wrote recently about demand for BEVs appeared in Warrnambool's The Standard, the half-page colour ad underneath was not for vehicles but for two full-time positions at the local family-owned VW dealership (one in sales, one in inventory).
To address the question posed though, let's look at some definitions. A recession is defined as two successive quarters of negative growth in GDP (gross domestic product).
Investopedia defines GDP as "the total monetary or market value of all the finished goods and services produced within a country's borders in a specific time period" (the usefulness, or even validity, of GDP as a measure of national economic success is also debated, but that's another story).
So, while a slowdown in consumption (which is what the RBA's one and only tool of higher interest rates aims to achieve to reduce inflation), could cause a recession, an insufficient number of workers to actually create the GDP in the first place could also produce a recession (independent of what happens with interest rates), but one which could occur without high unemployment.
Think about it. How do you get GDP growth without sufficient capacity to increase what the GDP attempts to measure?
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