Nearly half of all New Zealanders say they have not enough or just enough to live on, according to a Statistics New Zealand survey released today.
The year-long general social survey of 8500 households found most New Zealanders, or 87 per cent, were satisfied or very satisfied with their lives overall.
But 48 per cent reported having not enough or just enough money to meet their everyday needs for things such as accommodation, food, clothing and other necessities.
Just over a third, or 36 per cent, reported having major problems relating to the house or flat they live in, mainly relating to heating, dampness and the size of accommodation.
The findings come as poverty and the cost of living look set to become big issues during the lead-up to the November 26 election, with Prime Minister John Key and Labour leader Phil Goff going head to head on the issues in the first leaders' debate of the election last night.
The survey found unemployed people were three times more likely than employed people to report being dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with their lives.
They also had the lowest levels of life satisfaction overall, with only 70 per cent saying they were satisfied compared with 87 per cent overall.
Some 46 per cent of the unemployed said they did not have enough money to meet their everyday needs, compared with 13 per cent for employed people.
Unemployed people were also twice as likely to report being discriminated against and more likely to have problems with their house or flat.
The survey found overall life satisfaction decreased with lower household incomes, with those with an income less than $30,001 being three times more likely to report feeling dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with their lives.
People in lower income households were also more likely to report feeling unsafe walking alone in their neighbourhood at night, and had higher rates of fair to poor health than people in higher income households.
Those with lower levels of education were also more likely to be dissatisfied with their lives or not have enough money to meet their everyday needs.
Homeowners were more likely to be satisfied with their lives, while one-parent families were less satisfied, had less money to meet their needs, and had more problems with their house or flat.
Levels of satisfaction were similar for men and women, across ethnic groups, and for New Zealand- or overseas-born residents.
Principal statistician Paul Brown said life satisfaction varied across different population groups.
"Younger and older New Zealanders were more likely than people in middle life to say they were satisfied with their lives. This may reflect the pressures of work and family responsibilities as people move through middle life.''
The proportion of dissatisfied New Zealanders increased from young adults through to middle age, or 45-46 years of age, and decreased again as people grew older.
People of prime working age were more likely to report problems with their house or flat, or 47 per cent, compared with young adults at 33 per cent and older people at 20 per cent.
They were also more likely to report not having enough contact with friends, at 27 per cent, compared to young adults and older people at 17 per cent and 12 per cent respectively.
Nearly all New Zealanders felt they could get support from others in a time of crisis, at 96 per cent, while more than 90 per cent had seen friends and more than 80 per cent had seen family they did not live with in the last month.
The survey, carried out between April last year to March this year, follows the first general social survey conducted in 2008.
The results were similar to the previous survey, which found 86 per cent of New Zealanders were satisfied with their lives overall.