Being Kiwi: Fighting to escape the poverty trap

The Herald marks its change to a compact format with a week-long look at our changing national identity. Today, we take a look at the generation aged 20-39 - the children of Rogernomics.

Solo mother Dana Bolton dreams of a Lotto win. Photo / Alan Gibson
Solo mother Dana Bolton dreams of a Lotto win. Photo / Alan Gibson

Rotorua single mother Dana Bolton dreams of winning Big Wednesday to solve some of her problems, which mainly involve money.

"They say money doesn't buy happiness but it sure as hell helps," says the 35-year-old mother of three.

"I'd love to go into a supermarket without a calculator. I'd love to say to the kids, 'Yes, you can have Nutella', instead of, 'No, you can't because we need shampoo'."

Ms Bolton works 15 hours a week as a teacher aide, but gets a "big chunk" taken out of her benefit and says the system doesn't give people on the dole enough incentive to work.

"I live from week to week, so when the car registration comes around I don't have that money. I'm driving around without a registration.

"If you don't have things in place, if you're not on it with budgeting, it can be pretty difficult.

If the kids go to school camp and I'm supposed to find $140 ... "

Necessities such as dental treatment and car repairs add to the financial burden.

"I just had to have a root canal, that was $2000, I needed a $4000 transmission, I had to borrow that off my mother.

"Somehow before I die I'll pay it off," she vows.

New Zealanders from Ms Bolton's age band, born between 1972 and 1991, have been called "children of Rogernomics", the first generation that has known only the free market.

The election of Labour in 1984 saw the dollar floated, subsidies removed and state assets sold. By 1990, liquor laws were relaxed and Kiwis could shop on all days of the week.

But freedom came at the cost of the highest unemployment since the 1930s. Those born in the midst of it are still struggling in the wake of another recession with unemployment, static wages, high petrol prices and astronomical property prices that make home ownership impossible for many unless they move to Australia.

The Herald has interviewed 26 people in the age band, and nearly all - whether they are running their own business, employed or on the dole - feel life in New Zealand is getting tougher.

Denny Kim, 39, who owns and operates Java House Cafe in Devonport, says: "I pay too much rent and the tax is too high."

The South Korean father of two, who moved here so his children could have a better future, feels the country is becoming a worse place.

"Rents are very high and economy is not doing well, less income and high tax, GST 15 per cent, everything has increased," he says.

Belmont Primary School teacher Natalie Oborn, 28, does not think she will ever be able to buy a house and plans to teach overseas to earn more.

"Life is becoming harder in terms of being able to afford to live here," she says.

Miss Oborn, who boards with her father, does not think she can even afford rent on the North Shore.

"For me to rent where I want would cost a third of my week's salary."

The option of being a stay-at-home mum, counting on the husband to be the breadwinner, is also becoming an impossible dream.

Peter Thorne, 28, who teaches at the same school and is renting, says it was a financial struggle when they had a baby last year and his wife couldn't work.

"We can save money while she's working but just get by when she's not."

Some, like Cambridge solo mum Jessica Gregory, 33, see moving to Australia as the answer. She is going to join her brother in Brisbane. He was "blown away" by the prices in New Zealand when he visited in June.

"I just want to get away from NZ, it's such a struggle here," she says.

Cantabrian Darryn Boyle also feels he works "far too many hours in my job compared to what I get paid" and knows he could earn more or work less in Australia.

He says the earthquakes have made things tougher and Australia's economy, which seems in better shape, makes moving across the Tasman even more tempting.

"Earthquake damage means I can't sell a property I own," he says. "If I could sell that I would be comfortable."

Henderson waitress Lisa Anisi, 21, is moving to Sydney next year for a better job, but will come back to New Zealand to have children.

Waitakere-born Stevie-Ray Clarke, 20, who is unemployed, feels the country is "slowly getting worse".

"The Government selling off assets and that, I think that's wrecking our country in the long run," he says.

"Our economy is all right, I think, there's better money out there but there's less work. It's hard to find a job here now."

Lance Harris, 38, of Cambridge, is also pessimistic about what New Zealand will be like in 50 years.

"I'm pessimistic ... because I think we are getting too PC, and I think our leaders are actually encouraging society to be looked after rather than looking after themselves," he says.

"NZ used to be, we were talking about number 8 wire, most people in NZ were very handy doing a number of different things ... we are losing that."

Shreya Masters, 25, of central Auckland, says she finds it hard but does manage to pay her bills on time and tries to put some money aside. She thinks the country is getting worse when it comes to safety and doesn't think people let their kids play outside as often as they used to.

But she is happy to live here and explains her "white accent" as that of "an Indian born in New Zealand".

"I have lots of opportunities here," she says. "If I grew up in India, I wouldn't have had this life full of opportunities and feel I am so lucky to live in New Zealand."

What shaped us - key events 1972-92

1973 Britain enters the EEC. For almost a century we had made a living by sending meat, butter and wool to England. Now we had to find new markets, and stand on our own feet.
1975 Maori land march. The month-long hikoi from the Far North to Wellington focused attention on issues of Maori land and proclaimed a new assertion of Maori rights. Three days before the march reached Wellington the Waitangi Tribunal was established.
1981 Springbok tour. The civil war between supporters and critics of the tour expressed a major debate about national identity and the effect was to present an image of New Zealand as standing for non-racial human justice.
1984 Rogernomics begins. With the election of the Labour Government, the dollar was floated, subsidies were removed, state assets sold and New Zealand embraced the free market. Within six years we could shop 24/7.
1985 Anti-nuclear policy. In expressing an opposition to nuclear power and arms, New Zealand was forced out of Anzus and into confrontation with France over the Rainbow Warrior. New Zealand took an independent line in the world.
1987 A new immigration act. From this time immigrants were selected firmly on skills, not ethnic background, and this was strengthened by the points system in 1991. Asian-born people increased from under 40,000 in 1986 to over 250,000 in 2006.
Source: 30 key events 1912-2012 selected by Dr Jock Phillips and his team at the online encyclopedia Te Ara. More online at: http://blog.teara.govt.nz

The question

Who are we: What does it mean to be a New Zealander in today's interconnected world?
The context: The "typical" New Zealander who will read the new compact Herald is much harder to pin down now that we are more likely than ever either to have come here from overseas or to have been born here and gone.
The methods: A DigiPoll of 750 New Zealanders plus in-depth interviews with 91 people in New Zealand and 16 NZ-born people in Australia, including similar numbers in five 20-year age bands. The NZ interviews were arranged with the help of primary schools spanning the decile range in North and West Auckland, Cambridge, Rotorua and Christchurch. In addition, historians at the online encyclopedia Te Ara selected 30 key events that helped shape our identity over the past 100 years.
The team: Greg Ansley, Kurt Bayer, Simon Collins, Yvonne Tahana, Lincoln Tan, Vaimoana Tapaleao.

The series

Monday: Pioneer stock - aged 80-plus
Tuesday: War babies - aged 60-79
Yesterday: Opening up - aged 40-59
Today: Children of Rogernomics - aged 20-39
Tomorrow: Sport unites the nation - aged under 20.

Snapshot: New Zealanders aged 20 to 39

* European 65.5%
* Asian 11%
* Maori 9.1%
* Pacific 6.8%
* European-Maori 5.1%
* Other/mixtures 2.7%

Where we are:
* New Zealand 81.5%
* Australia 13.2%
* Rest of world 5.2%
Source: Statistics NZ

- NZ Herald

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