Unemployment rate down at 6.2%

Employment data released yesterday, showing growth in employment and a slight decline in unemployment, is a reflection of New Zealand's strengthening economy, economists say.

In Statistics New Zealand (SNZ) data for the quarter to September, the household labour force survey saw the unemployment rate decline from 6.4% to 6.2%, the lowest level since early 2010, while employment saw a 1.2% lift.

However, fewer employees received pay rises and the labour cost index showed annual wage inflation had eased, from 1.9% a year ago to 1.6%.

SNZ industry and labour statistics manager Diana Ramsay said the data reflected continued improvement in labour market conditions during the quarter.

''However, annual wage inflation remains restrained,'' she said in a statement.

ASB senior economist Jane Turner said the ''surging 1.2%'' employment gain was ''much stronger'' than expected.

''Most of the surprise was due to stronger employment growth outside Canterbury, up 1.2% according to ASB seasonally adjusted estimates,'' she said.

''Overall, the employment figures highlight the broadening nature of the economic recovery,'' she said.

Westpac chief economist Dominick Stephens said the data was ''consistent with strong growth in the New Zealand economy''.

''The surprising 1.2% lift in employment growth was largely due to a big lift in labour force participation in the quarter, possibly reflecting recent more stringent unemployment benefit criteria,'' Mr Stephens said.

However, while National focused on employment growth, Labour noted the total number of people classified as jobless had risen by 12,500 in September.

Minister of Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment Steven Joyce said the data reflected an improving labour market and strengthening economy.

''While unemployment is still higher than we would like, it has declined from 7.2% a year ago, and the overall trend is of an improving labour market as the economy picks up. The Government is working across a number of fronts to help bring the rate down further,'' Mr Joyce said.

''The economy grew at around 2.5% in the year to June 2013, one of the highest rates in the OECD,'' he said in a statement.

Labour's employment spokesperson, Grant Robertson, said 45,000 more New Zealanders were out of work than when National took office.

Yesterday's data showed the total number of people classified as jobless rose by 12,500 in September 2013 to 257,900.

''Without the Christchurch rebuild, the unemployment rate nationwide would be 6.5%,'' Mr Robertson said.

''When it comes to jobs, Christchurch is the only driver keeping New Zealand's head above water. Relying on national disasters is not a jobs plan,'' he said.

Council of Trade Unions economist Bill Rosenberg noted ''meagre increases'' in pay rates, which increased by less than inflation in the last quarter - a 0.4% increase in the labour cost index compared with 0.9% increase in the consumer price index.

''It's time working people saw much more recognition in their pay packets of a growing economy,'' he said in a statement.

Median pay rises are still low and decreasing, those who received an increase in the past year getting a 2.5% rise compared with 3% a year ago, when annual inflation was 0.8%.

Also, many people did not get a pay rise in the period, 46% missing out, up from 44% in the September quarter last year.

- simon.hartley@odt.co.nz

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