Maori and Pacific unemployment has dropped to the lowest level since the 2008 recession, but still haven't recovered to pre-crash levels.

The divide between employment rates in New Zealand European and Asian population, and Maori and Pacific population remains large, with Asian and European workers closer to returning to pre-recession unemployment rates.

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Statistics New Zealand figures show the unemployment rate for Pacific people fell to 9.7 per cent last year, down from 11.4 per cent a year earlier. This is the lowest rate since December 2008 when the unemployment rate hit 7.7 per cent.


The number of Pacific people employed increased by 14,500 over the year, resulting in a 1.6 percentage point increase in the employment rate for Pacific peoples.

The unemployment rate for Maori dropped 1.6 percentage points to 10.6 per cent in the year ended December 2015.

However, the employment rate for Maori fell 1.4 percentage points and labour force participation fell 2.8 percentage points, meaning that the number of Maori in the labour force has not kept up with growth of the working-age population.

Nationwide, the unemployment rate fell 0.7 percentage points, to 5.3 per cent, in the December 2015 quarter. This is the lowest unemployment rate since March 2009 (when it was 5.2 per cent). This fall reflected 16,000 fewer people being unemployed over the quarter.

Compared with the December 2014 quarter, there were 10,000 fewer unemployed people.

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The drop in the number of people unemployed came as the number of jobless people increased.

In 2015 there were 259,400 people without jobs. People classify as jobless when they are unemployed, but not seeking work, or seeking work, but not available to work.

The group of jobless people who are not officially unemployed made up 11.2 per cent of those not in the labour force.

Nick Tuffley. chief economist as ASB, said the fall in labour participation rate by 0.3 percentage points to 68.4 per cent was a surprise, and could be overstated.

"It is unusual to have the participation rate fall when employment growth itself has been so strong.

"We suspect there still exists a degree of slack in the labour market and that wage inflation will remain slow for some time yet."