6 May 2020

Unemployment data show slight increase before lockdown

4:03 pm on 6 May 2020

The unemployment rate rose modestly at the start of the year as the labour market remained robust before the Covid-19 pandemic hit.

Magnifying glass over Jobs section of newspaper classifieds

Photo: 123rf

Official numbers show unemployment was 4.2 percent in the three months ended March, up from 4 percent at the end of last year.

However, the data was gathered before the lockdown.

"The impact of Covid-19 on the labour market, including unemployment, hours actually worked, and underemployment, should be clearer in the June quarter," Stats NZ senior manager Sean Broughton said.

The economy added about 19,000 jobs during the quarter, wages rose 2.5 percent in the year to March, the strongest in a decade.

The underutilisation rate, a measure of the slack in the labour market, rose to 10.4 percent from 10 percent, which was an 11-year low.

"This low underutilisation rate signals there was a robust labour market before the Covid-19 lockdown. As we move into the June quarter, underutilisation, along with measures of usual and actual hours worked, will help capture the difference between people's demand for work and work available," Broughton said.

Economists have said the latest number were "yesterday's story' and were predicting double digits for unemployment by the end of the year.

"We expect it will take several years before the unemployment rate moves lower on a sustained basis. This has clear negative implications for household spending and the housing market," ASB senior economist Mike Jones said.

Stats NZ said future labour market numbers would be affected by limitations in collecting data.

The number of people on jobseeker assistance is not taken as the official measure of unemployment.

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