Simon Collins is the Herald’s social issues reporter.

Chch jobseeker numbers soar as rebuild wanes

The construction boom has pushed down jobseeker numbers in Auckland, but the falling rate of work in Christchurch has meant a big jump in Canterbury. Photo / NZME
The construction boom has pushed down jobseeker numbers in Auckland, but the falling rate of work in Christchurch has meant a big jump in Canterbury. Photo / NZME

Jobseeker beneficiaries in Canterbury have jumped by 18 per cent in the past year as the massive rebuild after the Christchurch earthquakes winds down.

New figures released by Social Development Minister Anne Tolley today show that numbers on jobseeker benefits rose nationally by 0.2 per cent to 117,134 in the year to March, the first year-on-year increase for six years.

But the turnaround was mainly due to the wind-down in Canterbury, where jobseekers jumped from 7701 a year ago to 9100, the highest March figure since the current jobseeker benefit was created in 2013.

Numbers dropped by 1.1 per cent in the rest of the country, including an impressive 7.3 per cent fall in Auckland which is experiencing a building boom.

The national tallies also dropped by 5.7 per cent for sole parents and 0.4 per cent for the supported living benefit, bringing the overall total of all beneficiaries down by 1.5 per cent to 279,891.

Total beneficiaries dropped below 10 per cent of the working-aged population for the first time since the global financial crisis hit in 2008. At 9.9 per cent of all people aged 18 to 64, beneficiary numbers are almost back to their 20-year low of 9.8 per cent achieved in March 2008.

But jobseekers, who declined from 5.4 per cent of the working-aged population five years ago to 4.2 per cent in March last year, were unbudged at 4.2 per cent again last month.
The jobseeker numbers tell a story of two nations, with increases in regions that have been hit by lower dairy prices as well as in Canterbury, but with falls in other areas.

The biggest increases after Canterbury were in Taranaki (up 12 per cent) and the West Coast (up 9.7 per cent), which have both been hit by the double whammy of lower dairy prices and plunging markets for natural gas and coal.

Jobseekers have also increased in Gisborne (up 9.4 per cent), Waikato (up 7.8 per cent), Marlborough (up 1.4 per cent), Wellington (up 0.9 per cent), Tasman (up 0.8 per cent) and Manawatu-Whanganui (up 0.5 per cent).

In contrast, other regions close to Auckland are sharing in its prosperity led by house-building and tourism, with jobseeker numbers down 3.7 per cent in the Bay of Plenty and 2.1 per cent in Northland.

Jobseekers also dwindled in Nelson (down 4 per cent), Otago (down 1.1 per cent) and Southland (down 0.6 per cent).

Overall the number of young people on all benefits dropped most (down 3.9 per cent), partly reflecting the relatively young working-aged population in Auckland. Beneficiaries aged 25 to 39 fell by 0.3 per cent, those aged 40 to 54 fell by 2.9 per cent, and those aged 55 to 64 increased by 0.6 per cent as the postwar "baby boomers" neared retirement age.

However minority ethnic groups failed to share in Auckland's prosperity, even though they are younger and mainly concentrated in the city. Nationally, beneficiary numbers dropped by 6.2 per cent for Europeans, but increased by 0.1 per cent for Maori, 3.6 per cent for Pacific people and 5.4 per cent for Asians and others.

- NZ Herald

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