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SYDNEY, Feb 7 AAP

February 07 2013, 02:30AM

The Australian jobs market is expected to have started the year on a weak note, with not enough jobs created to offset population growth.

An AAP survey of 15 economists, shows the unemployment rate to rise 5.5 per cent in January, from 5.4 per cent the previous month.

Total employment is expected to grow by 5,000 in the month.

AMP chief economist Dr Shane Oliver said the economy needed to add about 15,000-20,000 jobs a month in order for the unemployment rate to remain steady, but that kind of growth was unlikely at present.

"The labour market is going through a softer patch. We've seen month after month a fall in job vacancies, and business hiring plans remain weak," he said.

"I think we are still going through that phase in the economy where the weakness we saw late last year is leading to higher unemployment and that may have a little bit further to go before it has run its course."

The Australian Bureau of Statistics will release the data at 11.30am (AEDT), Thursday.