Whoa there, before saluting the Ardern government for keeping so many people in work

Stats  NZ  figures  this  week indicated the  country’s  unemployment  was  3.3%  of  the  workforce  in the  June quarter, or 0.1% less  than in the  March  quarter.

So  should we give  three  cheers to the Ardern  government for sustaining employment at   such  a  high  level    through  the  Covid  pandemic?

Given  how wages have increased – for  example,  in the manufacturing sector by  8%  over the  past year – surely  you have to concede  the  economy  is  ticking along very nicely under  this  government?

First, let’s check out  the  number  drawing  benefits.

In  March  there  were 278,238  people  drawing  a  main benefit.  That’s 11.1% of  the  working  age  population.

Again  there  appears  to be  good  news  here:  at the end of March 2022, the number of working-age people on Jobseeker Support decreased by 11.8%, compared with figures at the end of March 2021.

This is due to the change in Jobseeker Support – Work Ready, which decreased by 17.9%  when comparing the end of March 2022 (100,854) with the end of March 2021 (122,871).

Jobseeker Support is for people who are actively looking for or preparing for work. It includes people with part-time work obligations and those who cannot look for work at the moment (for example, those with a health condition, injury, or disability).

Again,  a  cursory  look  at  the  statistics can be  deceptive.

For  example,  the  figures  on employment relate to those in the population 15 and over.  But  those  for  the  Jobseeker Benefit relate  to  those age  18  to  64.

And  the  employment  figures  contain those  who  only  have part-time  jobs — as  many  as  200,000.

Moreover,  dissecting the  figures  for  those  on the  Jobseeker  benefit shows that as  many  as  one-third  have  been drawing  it  for  over  12  months.

So there   may  be  a  few  out-of-tune  notes  to  any  song of joy the politicians might want  to sing  about the  job stats,  just   as  there  has  been about  the  cost-of-  living  payment,  with  which  the  Ardern government  has  sought  to  ease the bruises  inflicted by  inflation   this  year.

The government   said  2.1m  people  would  receive  the payment  — but more  than  one-third  of  this  number  did  not  receive it  on the  day  it  was  rolled  out.

It as been said  that  as  many  as  800,000  did  not receive it  because  they  have  not  yet  filed  tax  returns  that  would  allow  them  to get  one.  The  total  cost of  those  missing  800,000 payouts  will be  $280m.

Another  criticism  is  that the  payment  can go  to spouses  of  people  who  are  on  very  high  salaries  (public  servants perhaps?)  because eligibility  is  assessed  at  the  individual level,  not the  household.

Those  championing   the case of  New  Zealanders stricken  with poverty  have  argued  the  case  for  on  benefits  to  receive  the  cost-of-living  payment.  Instead it  has   gone  to  people  living  overseas  (though Revenue  Minister David  Parker  claims  that  only  1%  of  payments have   gone  astray).

Still,  the   state-subsidised  media doesn’t  criticise  the  the  Prime  Minister   or  her  ministers.

The  NZ  Herald,  one  of  the  few  that occasionally  levels  some  criticism,  this  week defended  the   botchup, concluding  that

“… something  had  to be  done,  and  doing nothing  would have  been  worse”.

That  merely  underlines  the  folly  of  delivering  policy  on the  hoof —  or,  as  Justice  Minister  Kiritapu Alan  indicated, with  the  decision  on the cost-of-living payment that was  developed “almost overnight”.

Point  of  Order  wouldn’t  be  surprised  if  other policy  decisions  of  the  Ardern   government  are  developed  with  the  same  kind  of  dog-whistling.

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