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.