Living standards have stagnated or gone backwards since the GFC.
Living standards have stagnated or gone backwards since the GFC.

Australia’s $542 eight-year shame

The typical Australian household is actually worse off now than during the global financial crisis, with disposable incomes falling between 2009 and 2017.

That's according to the 2019 Household Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia report, which has been tracking 17,500 people across 9500 households since 2001.

Real median household annual disposable income was $80,595 in 2017, $542 lower than it was in 2009 at $80,637, having fallen between 2009 and 2011, risen in 2012 and remained broadly unchanged after.

From 2009 to 2017, the average household income only grew by $3156 or 3.5 per cent.

"When we look at overall measures of household income, we see that the broad trend in terms of income levels is stagnation, that we've seen very little change in the median income," Professor Roger Wilkins said in a statement.

"So the income of someone in the middle has basically remained unchanged since 2012. That was on the back of very substantial rises, particularly in the mid 2005 to 2009 range in particular, we saw very large increases in household incomes, but since 2012 there's been basically no growth."

Australian Council of Trade Unions secretary Sally McManus seized on the findings, saying working people "haven't had a real pay rise since the Coalition government came to power".

"This means living standards have not improved for a decade," she said in a statement.

"This is a government who actively works to keep wages low. It has designed the system this way by making the job of unions, which is to make wages go up, as hard as possible while cutting penalty rates, opposing minimum wage rises and holding down the wages of their own staff."


Disposable incomes have fallen since 2009.
Disposable incomes have fallen since 2009.


The Northern Territory has the highest household incomes.
The Northern Territory has the highest household incomes.


Ms McManus said the Morrison Government's legacy would be "the worst period of economic stagnation for households in recent memory".

The HILDA report also broke down incomes by state and territory, finding that households in the Northern Territory have now overtaken those in the Australian Capital Territory to take the top spot.

Between 2012-13 and 2016-17, the median household equivalised income - a measure of material living standards obtained by adjusting household disposable income for the household's "needs" - increased by 8.8 per cent in the NT to $67,061.

The ACT fell by 11 per cent over the same period to $66,230, Sydney increased 1.6 per cent to $48,569, Melbourne increased 4.1 per cent to $51,448, Brisbane increased 1.1 per cent to $51,652, Adelaide fell 1 per cent to $46,993, Perth fell 5.2 per cent to $53,392 and Tasmania increased 0.4 per cent to $41,172.

"After rapid growth between 2006 and 2011, the median income in the ACT fell considerably between 2012 and 2015 and has not since recovered, although it remained around equal-highest with the Northern Territory at the end of the 2001 to 2017 period," the report said.

"Among the mainland capital cities, Adelaide consistently has the lowest median income, while in recent years Perth has had the highest median income despite experiencing a substantial decline towards the end of the period.

"Aside from the ACT, Western Australia - both Perth and the rest of the state - has fared worst since 2012-2013. Non-Sydney New South Wales and Adelaide have also experienced declines in median incomes since 2012 to 2013."

Rising childcare costs, increasing commute times and growing rates of depression and anxiety were also highlighted in the report, as was a worrying uptick in poverty after a long-term downward trend.

"The HILDA survey is showing substantial increases in diagnosed depression and anxiety, and we've seen particularly large increases amongst young women," Prof Wilkins said.

"For example, amongst women aged 15 to 34, we had approximately 13 per cent reporting being diagnosed with depression or anxiety in 2009. In 2017, that was up to 20 per cent, so one in five women in that age range has actually been diagnosed with the condition."

The average weekly commute time since 2002 has ballooned from 3.7 hours to four-and-a-half hours or 66 minutes per day. Sydneysiders have the longest commutes at around 71 minutes a day.

The change has been blamed on poor infrastructure and public transport investment, soaring house prices and rapid population growth. "There are massive gender differences in commuting time," Dr Inga Lass said in a statement.

"Men usually spend longer on commutes than women, and especially fathers with two children are the ones who have longest commutes, but women tend to commute less when they have children

"The people who have long commutes, who spend more than two hours a day travelling to and from work, they are also less satisfied with their working hours, with the flexibility to balance work and life, and they're even less satisfied with their pay."

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