5 Aug 2020

Unemployment figures set to be revealed

8:49 am on 5 August 2020

Official data will reveal how badly the Covid-19 lockdown slashed job numbers, with economists saying the wage subsidy programme will have limited some of the rise.

Magnifying glass over Jobs section of newspaper classifieds

Photo: 123rf

The Household Labour Force Survey for the June quarter, being released today, is the first official labour data to include the lockdown period.

ASB Bank has predicted the rate of unemployed to jump from 4.2 percent to 6.4 percent.

Economists think that number would have been much worse if the wage subsidy had not been keeping people in jobs.

But not all were saved.

Since March nearly 70,000 people have taken up the JobSeeker benefit or Covid-19 redundancy grant.

One of them is Beth. She lost her advertising and administration job just after the lockdown.

She had been on the hunt for work but the options were limited.

"I've been applying for jobs, but there's not a lot out there especially with what I'm skilled in ... there is just nothing.

"I think just people aren't in the market for administration people, like we were kind of the ones that got the chop."

Nicky Johnston had also just been made redundant from her job in advertising and said her prospects were not promising.

"I'm actually thinking about doing one of these trades, you know, but I'm 51.

"It's not a great time to be made redundant when you are my age," she said.

"In Nelson, just about 85 percent of the population here is manual labour so trying to find a job in the industry or anything that's not manual labour is quite hard."

TradeMe head of jobs Jeremy Wade said vacancy listings in July were 20 percent down from the same month last year, and employers were getting more applicants to choose from.

"Because the inventory is lower as well, and obviously you've got a few more people in the market now looking, what we're seeing is that applications per listing are up roughly 35 percent on the same time last year, so it's certainly a lot more competitive out there."

Wade said marketing, media, communications and sales staff were bearing the brunt of the job losses.

The main centres, particularly Auckland, were taking the biggest hit.

As of last month, an estimated 1.7 million jobs were cushioned by the wage subsidy at a taxpayer cost of $12.3 billion.

Businesses face tough decisions in second half of 2020

Economist Benje Patterson said the unemployment rate for the second quarter of 2020 would not paint a real picture of the country's economic health.

"The initial sugar rush as we came out of lockdown has meant that many businesses have seen a spike in activity.

"While at the same time many other businesses that are struggling have been able to retain a lot of workers through the wage subsidy.

"As we move into the second half of 2020 many people are going to begin to roll off the wage subsidies, and it's at that point that some businesses are going to have to make tough decisions."

Patterson said younger people have been losing more jobs than the middle-aged, likely because employers are protecting people who act as the main breadwinner for their family.

Māori trade organisation Te Taumata chair Chris Karamea Insley said Māori unemployment was trending upward and could get as high as 20 percent.

"It shouldn't come as any surprise, as we went into lockdown and through lockdown there was a lot of the industries that are big employers for Māori, like in the primary sector that really got hit hard.

"I guess the surprise that everyone has is that Māori seem to be disproportionately impacted by that high unemployment rate," he said.

Karamea Insley said the government acted quickly to support Māori businesses in the lockdown, but it was now about what they continued to do to preserve jobs.

Underemployment likely to rise - economist

Liz Kendall, senior economist at ANZ, said today's statistics were likely to understate the extent of job losses because it had been difficult to survey people during the lockdown.

Kendall expects the level of underemployment - currently sitting at around 10 percent - is likely to rise.

"That captures people who would prefer to work more hours - and we know a lot of people had their hours cut over the quarter - but also those people who would like to look for a job but can't."

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