Labour data for the June quarter has shown up a worrying gender imbalance, with women accounting for 90 per cent of the drop in total employment.

June quarter data was distorted by the Covid-19 lockdown but still surprised economists by showing a fall in unemployment (from 4.2 to 4 per cent)

The number of people classified as employed (as opposed to unemployed) in the quarter, fell by just 11,000 - to 2,665,000.

Worryingly though, women accounted 10,000 - or 90 per cent - of that fall.

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"While we don't quite believe the numbers, the shock to women was especially harsh," said KiwiBank economist Mary Jo Vergara.

"Even adjusting for anomalies I think we'd still see a split, probably closer to around 60 or 70 per cent"

The female underutilisation rate also rose to 14.9 per cent, up from 12.7 per cent, and the unemployment rate rose to 4.4 per cent. Both were more extreme than the numbers for men.

Women have historically fared well in times of war and crisis, Vergara said.

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During World War II, there was a dramatic rise in female employment as they replaced male workers who went in to the military.

During the economic reforms of the 1980s, targeted industries were male dominated - such as manufacturing - and female employment was barely disrupted.

In the 90s the demand for more part-time and contract workers also saw female workers in strong demand.

"But the Covid-19 pandemic has created a recession like no other," Vergara said.

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"The service industry will likely bear the brunt of the nationwide lockdown. Women are especially vulnerable this time around. Because over 60 per cent of sales workers and over 70 per cent of hospitality workers are female."

Vergara said she hoped the trend would be acknowledged by policymakers as an opportunity to address the gender composition of the labour force.

"The war years were a turning point for women in the workforce. More women joined and more women moved into jobs traditionally carried out by men," she said.

"The current recession may offer another opportunity to address the gender composition of the labour force."

"The Government's $1.6 million trade and apprenticeship training package could be used to encourage more women to pick up the tools. And these are sectors where women are largely underrepresented."

Stats NZ today said the Covid effect had dampened labour market activity which had impacted the unemployment number.

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"About 650,000 people were away from their job, working fewer hours or less than they wanted, or were otherwise less active in the labour market in the June 2020 quarter due to reasons related to Covid-19 such as sickness or lockdown," Stats NZ said.

To be categorised as unemployed by StatsNZ, a person must:

• not have a job,

• be available to start work, and

• have been actively seeking work in the past four weeks or be due to start a new job in the next four weeks.