CANBERRA, AAP – The unemployment rate is expected to return to the 13-year low seen briefly last year when the latest jobs figures are released.

Economists expect Thursday’s Australian Bureau of Statistics labour force report for December will show a 60,000 increase in the number of people employed.

This comes after November’s 366,100 employment surge as Australians entered or rejoined the workforce after the end of Delta variant lockdowns in NSW, Victoria and the ACT.

The still relatively solid forecast for December comes despite figures showing payroll jobs easing 0.5 per cent in the fortnight to December 18.

“Following the strong bounce in November, payroll jobs are setting the scene for a more modest but still sound gain in employment in the December labour force survey,” Westpac senior economist Justin Smirk said.

Economists’ forecasts also point to the jobless rate easing to 4.5 per cent in December, a level briefly seen in August last year before the COVID-19 Delta variant restrictions were put in place.

National Australia Bank is expecting a larger fall to 4.4 per cent, which would be the lowest result since October 2008 when the global financial crisis was first beginning to bite.

In November, the jobless rate fell sharply to 4.6 per cent after a spike to 5.2 per cent in October.

In its most recent economic forecasts released in November, the Reserve Bank of Australia had predicted an unemployment rate of 4.75 per cent by the end of 2021 and did not see it reaching 4.5 per cent until the middle of next year.

However, the central bank has repeatedly indicated it would need to see the jobless rate even closer to four per cent before considering a hike in the cash rate.

The ABS will release its inflation report for the December quarter next Tuesday ahead of the RBA’s first board meeting of the year on February 1.