Unemployment results released this week were greeted with
justifications and cliches from the Government, explanations
and predictions from economists, and expected criticisms and
calls for action from Opposition parties and unions.
The latest quarterly figures from Statistics New Zealand
showed unemployment rose to an annual rate of 7.3% in
September, up from 6.8% in June, putting the total number of
unemployed (175,000 people) the highest in 13 years.
Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment Minister Steven
Joyce said the results from the Household Labour Force Survey
showed New Zealand was not immune to "global economic
headwinds" and many of the country's trading partners
continued to struggle with sluggish economies and too much
The country's unemployment rate remained better than most
OECD countries and was equal with Canada, he said.
Looking further afield, the minister is right. In Greece and
Spain, the euro zone's most troubled member countries, the
unemployment rate is spiralling. Recent data shows Greece's
overall unemployment rate is now 25.4% (and is at 58% for
those aged 15 to 24).
Spain's overall unemployment rate is 25.8%. Youth
unemployment there is 54.2%.
Although we might be a long way off such alarming figures,
there is certainly no comfort in Mr Joyce's predictable
soundbites. In a comparison closer to home, Australia's
unemployment rate was unchanged at a lower-than-expected
seasonally adjusted 5.4% in October.
This country's figures showed that while European
unemployment was at 5.4%, the figure for Maori rose to 15.1%
and the Pacific community was 15.6%. Mana Party leader Hone
Harawira said those statistics would be much worse, but many
Maori had moved to Australia for work. (Indeed, the most
recent migration figures from Statistics show a total of
53,700 New Zealanders moved to Australia in the year to
While there have been questions raised about the sampling
method used to obtain the unemployment figures, there is no
denying the trend. This is the third consecutive quarter in
which the number of unemployed has risen. But what, beyond
hand-wringing, has been done?
In the wake of the global financial crisis, households have
been told to save, and the Government itself is focusing on
reducing spending and debt. That influences domestic growth -
and with it the job market.
Opposition parties used cliches to slam the Government,
saying the situation showed the economic plan was failing and
it must do something to grow the economy and create jobs.
Labour Party leader David Shearer said Prime Minister John
Key promised to create 175,000 new jobs, but instead there
were now 175,000 people looking for work. Council of Trade
Unions secretary Peter Conway called the situation a
"national crisis" and said the Government must make jobs a
Mr Key said the figures were "unusual", at odds with other
data and economic predictions, his Government was "reforming
the economy, as is absolutely necessary" and that "I don't
think we should change course - I think we're on the right
track". His response also contained platitudes: the country
was "part of an international circumstance" with "difficult
international trading conditions". That "right track" will be
a bitter pill to swallow for those who have lost jobs in
recent shutdowns and layoffs in the manufacturing and
meatworks sectors - and those who continue to look for
The Government has made various attempts to address the
situation - through the likes of youth rates to encourage
employers to take on young workers, and increased funding for
skills training - but these have also been criticised as
either unworkable or not going far enough.
Mr Conway is right in saying "these are not just numbers,
they are people and families". And the trickle-down effects
of unemployment can cost society through increased welfare
dependency, poverty, mental-health problems, drug and alcohol
abuse and crime.
The job of creating jobs has seldom been as important or as
difficult. But some of the difficulties lie in cross-party
finger-pointing and blame-laying. It is time all concerned
had the courage to collaborate.