Where are the jobs? Youth unemployment crisis in the north

By Simon Collins

Hare Peihopa, 18, has had sporadic work since school, and says one in 10 of his mates has a job. The rest steal or sell drugs for money. Picture / Natalie Slade
Hare Peihopa, 18, has had sporadic work since school, and says one in 10 of his mates has a job. The rest steal or sell drugs for money. Picture / Natalie Slade

Youth unemployment has reached crisis levels in Northland despite signs of a long-awaited economic recovery in some parts of the country.

Northland's unemployment rate rose to 9.8 per cent in the first quarter this year, the highest since 2003 and almost 2 per cent above the next-highest regions, Auckland and Hawkes Bay/Gisborne, both on 7.9 per cent.

Just over a fifth of all working-age Northlanders, 29 per cent of young people aged 18 to 24, and 48 per cent of working-age Maori were on welfare benefits at the end of March.

The figures indicate that almost certainly more than half the region's Maori young people are on welfare - a situation Kaitaia-based Te Rarawa leader Haami Piripi said showed how Maori had been "marginalised".

"The feature of that experience has been the development of our economy in this region without us," he said.

But unemployment has also risen more sharply in Northland and Auckland since the recession began three years ago than anywhere else in the country except earthquake-ravaged Canterbury.

In Whangarei's Cameron St Mall, 18-year-old Hare Peihopa said only one in 10 of his friends was working.

"Most of them are in jail for selling drugs or stealing - anything to make some money."

He has had "on-and-off jobs" since leaving school, most recently harvesting kumara near Dargaville until three months ago.

His partner has just found out she is pregnant.

In Kaitaia, Zane Thomas, 16, has also worked for short periods for a gardening contractor and on a dairy farm since leaving school at the start of last year, and has put his name down for a forestry course.

But he added that only two out of 10 of his mates were working.

A whanau support worker for Whangarei's 155 Community House, Maylene Erihe, said growing numbers of both families and single people were coming to social services for help.

"Half have been working and have been made redundant. Half have been on benefits for years," she said.

"Most live with lots of other family members, like boarders, to try and cover the cost of living. Overcrowding would be huge up here."

Many are leaving. Five of Ms Erihe's relatives have moved to Australia in the past year to find work.

Infometrics regional economist Andrew Whiteford said unemployment had hardly budged on a national basis in the past year because the recession was dragging on longer than forecasters expected.

"We've hardly pulled out of the recession, it's gone on and on," he said.

"The economy hasn't really got going again. It hasn't created many jobs, whereas the labour force has been growing over that time.

"We need a faster-growing economy to match the growth in the labour force."

He said employment had started growing slightly in Auckland, and city unemployment benefit totals fell in the past year, even though official surveys showed no change in the numbers seeking work.

But Northland had been hit by drought as well as hard times for luxury industries such as building boats and holiday homes.

"The bottom line for Northland is there just are not the economic opportunities up there."

He said tourism was a leading industry in the region with widespread flow-on effects in good times, which could be a key to the north's recovery.

Depressing numbers
9 per cent of Northland's working-age population are unemployed
This figure includes ...
29 per cent of the region's 18- to 24-year-olds
48 per cent of working-age Maori.

- NZ Herald

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