20 May 2014

CORRESPONDENT - Karen Mangnall

8:10 am on 20 May 2014

Pasifika communities have borne the brunt of the global financial crisis in New Zealand. So are they now doing better under the country's so-called rock-star economy?

It's a pressing question for Auckland, in particular, which is home to two-thirds of the Pasifika population - or about 195,000 people. And for the very young Pasifika population which will be a significant part of the city's future workforce.

A year ago the Salvation Army's inaugural State of the Nation report on Pasifika people found they'd been more severely hit by the economic downturn. They had the highest unemployment, lowest incomes and a widening income gap that could see them left behind when the economy recovered.

The Salvation Army is updating that report next week. Will it find Pasifika communities benefiting from the jobs and higher incomes described by Finance Minister Bill English last week in his 'confident Budget for a confident country'?

One Pasifika community leader in Auckland said "the Government is starting to talk about the economy doing well but we're not seeing it in Pacific communities especially among the young people. With this whole rock star economy, the trickle down effect isn't working."

Consider these figures from the annual Household Economy Survey.

In the two years to 2013, the median annual income for all New Zealanders went up by $2,315 to $31,286. But for Pasifika adults nationwide it dropped by $968 to $19,567.

In Auckland the income gap is even wider. Median annual incomes for all Aucklanders rose by $1,706 to $31,286 but went down by $2,297 for Pasifika adults to $18,560. And for Pasifika households in Auckland, the drop was $12,000.

Unemployment for Pasifika people has improved slightly but at 13 percent is still twice the national rate. In Auckland, it's 14.6 percent, or 11,200 unemployed.

What's most worrying to educators, the Auckland Council and Pasifika leaders is the number of Pasifika aged 15-24 who are not in employment, education or training - the NEET youth. In March, they numbered 10,700 nationally or nearly 19 percent of the workforce. In parts of south Auckland, that rate is up to 30 percent, according to the census.

The Raise Pasifika Education coalition estimates there are more than 6000 Pasifika NEET youth in south Auckland. It says more funding is needed for foundation courses to get the young people to NCEA Level 2 and 3, so they can take up trades training or higher qualifications.

The economic divide between Pasifika and other communities is being reinforced by a geographic divide in Auckland. The lowest incomes, highest unemployment and highest youth unemployment are all to be found in the three south Auckland areas with the biggest Pasifika populations - Mangere-Otahuhu, Otara-Papatoetoe and Manurewa.

The Salvation Army says this concentration of low-income and poor people in certain suburbs is getting worse and causing increasing hardship to communities whose incomes haven't grown. The full impact of this on Pasifika communities will be highlighted next week when the Salvation Army releases its updated State of the Nation report.