The number of Western Bay residents claiming unemployment benefits jumped by more than 30 per cent in the past year and has soared since 2008, new government figures reveal.
Tauranga Mayor Stuart Crosby warns the number of unemployed locals is likely to be even higher than the benefit figures show.
"Not all unemployed would actually be on the benefit statistic," he said. According to the figures, about 6900 Western Bay residents claimed a benefit during March.
About 900 recipients were receiving the unemployment benefit, up from 687 in March last year. Just 54 local residents were on the dole five years ago.
Nationally, the number of people receiving one of the main benefits fell 4 per cent in the year to March.
Mr Crosby told the Bay of Plenty Times those in the hospitality and retail sectors were finding times difficult.
But improvements in the construction sector had resulted in recent job opportunities.
A five-year comparison reveals fewer than 60 Western Bay residents were claiming unemployment benefits in March 2008. Tauranga Chamber of Commerce chief executive Max Mason said the figures surprised him and he did not feel they accurately reflected the growing confidence in the Bay business community and in the job market.
"Certain industries like building and IT have a high demand for staff at the moment," he said.
Mr Mason said the unemployment figures could also be affected by people returning from Australia.
"Things are going off the boil a bit in Oz, which may have the effect of reducing the exodus over there, and there also could be people returning home to Tauranga."
Mr Mason said he empathised with people on medium- to long-term unemployment benefits who faced challenges finding work.
"It can be difficult for some people to get off the benefit, simply because they do not have the right skills. No longer can people get a qualification and rely on this for life. You need to be continuously learning.
"If people are looking to return to work after a family or a time out of the work force, they may not be up to date with technology."
The Chamber of Commerce offers a Skills for Industry course each year for beneficiaries who are referred by Work and Income case managers.
Of the 310,000 people on benefits last month, nearly one in three (31 per cent) were aged between 25 and 39 years. Those aged 40 to 54 made up a similar proportion of beneficiaries (32 per cent.)