Between 2014–15 and 2018–19, after adjusting for inflation, the median gross weekly personal income for Indigenous Australians aged 18 and over fell by 5.6%, from $518 to $489 (Figure 1). Among this group, 23% reported a gross personal income of $1,000 or more per week in 2018–19, slightly more than half of the comparable proportion of non‑Indigenous Australians (42%) in 2017–18 (ABS 2019b, 2019c).
In 2018–19, Indigenous Australian men were around twice as likely as women to report a gross personal income of $1,000 or more per week (31% and 16%, respectively).
Sixty-eight per cent of Indigenous Australians aged 18 and over reported a gross personal income between $1 and $799 per week in 2018–19, 22 percentage points higher than the comparable proportion of non-Indigenous Australians (47%) in 2017–18 (ABS 2019b, 2019d).
Non-Indigenous Australians reported a median gross personal income per week of $780 in 2017–18, 60% higher than that for Indigenous Australians in 2018–19, after adjusting for inflation. Personal income among non-Indigenous Australians has fallen by 8.8% since 2014–15 ($855), after adjusting for inflation (Figure 1).
Variation by remoteness area
Personal income varied considerably by remoteness area for Indigenous Australians. Among those aged 18 and over in 2018–19, the highest median gross personal income per week ($600) was reported in Major cities. There was a consistent decrease with increasing remoteness, with the lowest median gross personal income reported in Very remote areas ($350). A similar pattern was seen in 2014–15 (Figure 1).
Personal income for non-Indigenous Australians also varied by remoteness, with the highest median personal income per week reported in Major cities ($915) and the lowest in Outer regional areas ($712) in 2017–18, after adjusting for inflation (Figure 1).
The difference in median personal income between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians was highest in Remote areas, where the median gross personal income per week for non-Indigenous Australians ($813) was 85% higher than that for Indigenous Australians ($440) in the 2017–18 to 2018–19 period, after adjusting for inflation. This difference was smallest in Inner regional areas, though still 51% higher ($741 and $490 for non-Indigenous and Indigenous Australians, respectively) (Figure 1).
The data on personal and household incomes presented earlier on this page are for gross income – the total income (including government payments) before deductions such as income tax or ‘salary sacrifice’ payments are made. Disposable income is the amount of income received after tax, so it is a better measure of the economic resources available to a person or household.
Data on disposable incomes for Indigenous Australians are not currently available; however, by combining information from the ABS 2016 Census of Population and Housing with data from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics (HILDA) Survey, Markham & Biddle (2018) have estimated personal and household disposable income for Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians (note that these values are not adjusted for inflation).
Variation by remoteness area
Their analysis suggests that, in 2016, the median equivalised disposable income per week among Indigenous households was $557, around 69% of that in non-Indigenous households. Median disposable income for Indigenous households decreased with remoteness, from $647 in Major cities to $389 in Very remote areas, with the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous disposable household incomes also increasing with remoteness. The median personal disposable income per week for Indigenous Australians in 2016 was $437, which again decreased with remoteness from a median of $499 in Major cities to $292 in Very remote areas (Markham & Biddle 2018).
- 45% of working age Indigenous Australians (18–64 years) relied on a government pension or allowance as their main income source – a drop of 2.1 percentage points from the equivalent figure in 2014–15 of 47%
- 44% relied on employee income
- 5.7% reported other main sources of income
- 5.6% reported having no source of income, or did not know or state their income source (SCRGSP 2020).
The proportion of Indigenous Australians of working age whose main source of income was a government pension or allowance was highest in 2018–19 in Outer regional areas (57%) and lowest in Major cities (36%). For non-Indigenous Australians in 2017–18, the proportion was also highest in Outer regional areas (20%) and lower in both Remote areas (10%) and Major cities (11%) (Figure 1).
In 2018–19, the proportion of working age Indigenous Australians relying on wages or salaries as their main income source was highest in Major cities (53%) and lowest in Very remote areas (32%). The overall proportion remained stable between 2014–15 (43%) and 2018–19 (44%) (SCRGSP 2020).
Income support payments provide for basic costs of living and are the primary form of financial assistance for individuals who are unable, or not expected, to fully support themselves when they are not working. In Australia, Services Australia delivers income support payments through its network of offices. Due to the coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, the Australian Government made considerable changes to income support payments in 2020.
See Unemployment and parenting income support payments for more information.
As at 25 December 2020, slightly more than half (53%) of Indigenous Australians aged 16 and over were receiving some form of income support payment – a total of around 299,600 recipients (ABS 2019a; DSS 2021). This is almost twice the proportion of comparable other Australians receiving some form of income support (27%) (Figure 2) (see glossary and A guide to Australian Government payments for descriptions of income support payments).
- The total proportion of people aged 16 and over receiving an income support payment increased by 7.8 percentage points for Indigenous Australians and by 4.6 percentage points for other Australians between December 2019 and June 2020 (Figure 2).
- These increases were mainly due to a large rise in the number of recipients of the JobSeeker Payment (formerly the Newstart Allowance) and Youth Allowance (other) between December 2019 and June 2020 and reflect the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the Australian labour market (ABS 2020a) (Figure 2).
- The proportion of Indigenous Australians aged 22–65 years receiving Newstart Allowance (2019) or the JobSeeker Payment (2020) increased by one-third between December 2019 and June 2020 (from 21% to 27%) – an additional 28,700 recipients. In comparison, the proportion of comparable other Australians receiving either of these payments more than doubled, rising from 4.6% to 9.4% over this period (Figure 2).
- Indigenous Australians accounted for 4.0% of the increase in overall JobSeeker Payment recipients between December 2019 and June 2020, despite representing only 2.9% of the 22–65 year old population in this period (ABS 2019a, 2020c; DSS 2020a, 2020b).
- The total number of Indigenous Australians aged 16 and over receiving income support payments increased by 26% between June 2018 and June 2020; the proportion of this population receiving income support payments increased by 8.6 percentage points over the same period (Figure 2).
- The most common income support payments received by Indigenous Australians in December 2020 were the JobSeeker Payment (116,600 recipients), Youth Allowance (other) (28,700), the Disability Support Pension (52,700) and the Parenting Payment (single) (39,400) (Figure 2).
Indigenous Australians as income support recipients
Overall, Indigenous Australians made up 5.3% of all income support recipients in December 2020, yet they represent just 2.8% of the Australian population aged 16 and over. The share of Indigenous Australians among income support recipients has been steadily increasing since June 2016, when they made up 4.3% of the income support population. Excluding the Age Pension, Indigenous Australians made up 8.9% of all other income support recipients in December 2020 – a slight drop since December 2019 when it was 9.7% (ABS 2019a; DSS 2020a, 2021).
The share of Indigenous Australians among total income support recipients varied by type of income support payment, representing 19% of all recipients of Youth Allowance (other), 16% of the Parenting Payment (single) and 8.8% of the JobSeeker Payment in December 2020 (Figure 2).
Note that Indigenous identification in Services Australia (Centrelink) and population data is voluntary and self-identified. This may influence the quality and completeness of the data and subsequent reporting on the number and proportion of Indigenous Australians receiving income support payments, especially among older Indigenous Australians and pension recipients.
JobKeeper data for Indigenous Australians were not available at the time of writing.