Child poverty is dwindling, more people are in jobs and people are drinking and gambling less, the Salvation Army says.

The army's eighth annual "state of the nation" report says life is getting better on 14 out of 22 indicators of our social wellbeing. Only four indicators are getting worse and four others are inconclusive.

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More jobs, better incomes, but we need 4000 homes

But the positive trends associated with economic recovery risk being undermined by negatives on two key housing measures - a worsening physical shortage of housing in Auckland, and worsening affordability as both house prices and rents increase.

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Our children

Child poverty: -2% (better)

Children in families on welfare benefits have dropped to about 17 per cent of all children, the lowest for 25 years, through a combination of welfare reforms pushing sole parents into work and more jobs pulling the unemployed back into the workforce (see Employment, below).

The report says that historically this number has been a leading indicator of broader child poverty, so it is possible that child poverty is also at a 25-year low. But report author Alan Johnson cautions that this historical link may have weakened because the proportion of children in poverty whose families were on welfare has dropped from 66 per cent in 2011 to 54 per cent at last count in 2013.

The last official child poverty figures, also up to 2013, show that children in families living below 60 per cent of median household incomes, adjusted for household size, almost doubled from 16 per cent of all children in 1990 to peak at 30 per cent in 2001, fell to 22 per cent in 2007, rose again to 28 per cent in 2010 and fell back to 24 per cent in 2013.

Numbers of children in welfare-dependent families peaked at 30 per cent in 1998, when the proportion of sole-parents also peaked at about a third of all families with children. Sole-parent families have declined slightly since then, and children in welfare-dependent families fell to 19 per cent in 2007, rose to 22 per cent in 2010 and fell back to 19 per cent in 2013.

The report estimates that figure has now fallen a further 2 per cent to 17 per cent.

Child abuse: -12% (Better)

The number of children where allegations of abuse or neglect were substantiated dropped by 12.4 per cent last year, from 18,595 to 16,289, the lowest since at least 2009.

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The report cautions that this drop "may signal a change in practice or threshold being applied by CYF [Child, Youth and Family]".

However, CYF head Bernadine Mackenzie defended the figures, saying they reflected "the way we are now working with our partners in police, NGOs, health and education".

Violence against children: +3.5% (worse)

In contrast to CYF data, police figures show a 3.5 per cent increase in recorded offences against children to 5397 offences last year, up 56 per cent from 2009.

In the latest year injury assaults rose by 11 per cent to 1150, and non-injury assaults such as smacking rose by 5 per cent to 1713.

Early childhood education: No data

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Education Ministry figures show that more than 90 per cent of children now attend early childhood education before they start primary school.

These figures have increased more for Maori (up from 89.6 per cent in 2009 to 92.9 per cent last year) and Pasifika children (up from 85.1 per cent to 90.3 per cent) than they have for Europeans (up from an already-high 97.3 per cent to 98.1 per cent).

But the report complains that early childhood enrolment data has not been updated since 2013.

NCEA: No change

Students leaving school with at least level 2 on the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) increased faster in schools in the poorest areas than in the richest areas up to 2012, but that progress stalled in 2013.

Infant mortality: +8% (worse)

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The proportion of babies who die within their first year halved in the past quarter-century, from 8.5 for every 1000 babies in 1990 to 4.3 in 2013. But it increased slightly to 4.6 last year.

The Maori rate came down even more dramatically from 15.1 in 1990 to 4.7 in 2013, but jumped last year to 7.5.

For comparison, the 2013 infant mortality rate in Australia was only 3.6 deaths for every 1000 babies. The rate for indigenous Australians was 6.5.

Teen pregnancy: -15% (Better)

Teen pregnancy rates have fallen to the lowest level in at least 35 years, plunging from a peak of 59 pregnancies for every 1000 girls aged 15 to 19 as recently as 2008 to just 35 for every 1000 girls in 2013.

The teen birth rate has trended down since at least 1980 and has come down in the past five years from 29 babies for every 1000 teen women aged 15-19 to 23.

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The declining birth rate was more than matched by a rising teen abortion rate for 30 years, with a peak in the first decade of this century that may have been partly due to an influx of overseas students. But the abortion rate has also dropped since 2008.

The trends match Auckland University surveys of 8500 secondary school students which found that the numbers who had had sex fell from 36 per cent in 2007 to 24 per cent in 2012.

Seventeen per cent of the students drank alcohol at least once a week in 2001, but only 8 per cent in the latest survey.

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Crime

Overall crime: -3.7% (better)

Crime rates have been dropping since the 1990s and came down further last year, down 3.7 per cent to 7898 offences for every 100,000 people.

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The report questions whether these figures reflect the reality, noting that vehicle thefts more than halved from 250 for every 100,000 people in 1997 to just over 100 last year, whereas burglary rates fell much less, from about 130 to 85, and shoplifting rates were stable throughout the period at about 50.

Serious crime: -2.7% (unclear)

In contrast to declining overall crime, reported rates of violent crime rose in the first decade of this century because of the "It's not OK" campaign against family violence and the associated reduced police tolerance of domestic assaults.

Violent crime rates have fallen again by 12.5 per cent from a peak of 1167 offences for every 100,000 people in 2008-09 to 1021 in 2012-13.

However, the report says the resolution rate for violent offences has also fallen, from 85.7 per cent to 74.1 per cent.

Imprisonment rate: -3.2% (better)

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After rising due to tougher sentencing laws up to 2011, the imprisonment rate has finally come down slightly in the past three years from 199 prisoners for every 100,000 people to 188 last year.

But Maori are still 5.6 times as likely to be in jail as non-Maori. The Maori imprisonment rate has fallen from 660 to 613 for every 100,000 people.

Reoffending: -0.5% (better)

The reoffending rate has started to come down, but progress is slow. The proportion of released prisoners who end up back in jail within two years has dropped from 39.2 per cent in 2011 to 37.3 per cent in 2013 and 36.8 per cent last year.

Work and income

Employment: +3.5% (better)

The number of New Zealanders in employment jumped by 80,000, or 3.5 per cent, in the year to December. Two-thirds (66.2 per cent) of all Kiwis aged 15 and over now have a job, only marginally below a December 2007 peak of 66.7 per cent.

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The 68.1 per cent employment rate for Europeans is now back to its 2007 level (68.3 per cent) and the Asian rate (65.4 per cent) is higher than in 2007, reflecting the transition of the Asian community from mainly students to a working-aged population.

But Maori and Pasifika workers were worst hit by the recession and have not yet recovered. Maori employment fell from 63.9 per cent to 55.2 per cent in 2012 and has recovered only to 60.2 per cent. The Pasifika rate dropped from 61.2 per cent to 50.1 per cent and is still only 57.7 per cent.

Unemployment: -0.3% (better)

The unemployment rate jumped from just 3.3 per cent of the workforce in December 2007 to 6.8 per cent two years later. It has come down in the past year from 6 per cent to 5.7 per cent.

Maori (12 per cent) and Pasifika people (11.2 per cent) still have much higher unemployment rates than Asians (5.5 per cent) and Europeans (4.5 per cent).

Real incomes: +1.8% (better)

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Real average wages for those who kept their jobs kept rising through the recession, although very slowly, and are now just over 5 per cent higher than in 2009 after adjusting for price increases. The increase in the past year was 1.8 per cent.

However, the report noted "signs that income inequality may be growing". In 2009 an average worker in the highest-paid sector, banking and insurance, earned 2.26 times the average wage in the lowest-paid sector, food and accommodation. By last year, that ratio had widened to 2.37 times. In 2009, women earned hourly rates averaging 87.8 per cent those of men. By last year, they were down to 87.1 per cent.

Benefit numbers: -4% (better)

Numbers on working-aged benefits dropped by 12,700 (4 per cent) last year to 309,100, or 11.2 per cent of the population aged 18 to 64. That was down from 13 per cent at the peak of the recession in 2010, but still above a 2007 pre-recession low of 10 per cent.

This reduction was more than offset by an increase of 4 per cent on NZ superannuation, now 674,000 people.

Food parcels: -2% (better)

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Food parcels given out by the Salvation Army dropped last year for the first time since 2005, falling 2 per cent as more people finally found work.

However, food parcel numbers are still far higher than before the recession and last year's tally was still the third-highest on record.

Social hazards

Drug crime: -10% (better)

Recorded drug offences fell 10 per cent last year to the lowest number in 20 years. The report says this may be partly because police are giving less attention to cannabis to concentrate on a much smaller number of harder drug offences, which increased by 13 per cent. But other data suggests actual use of hard drugs may be declining.

Successive NZ health surveys have found that the numbers of Kiwis using amphetamines dropped from between 2.2 and 2.7 per cent in 2003 and 2007 to just 1.1 per cent in 2013.

Alcohol: -2.6% (better)

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New Zealanders consumed only 9.5 litres of pure alcohol per person last year, down 2.6 per cent in a year and the lowest amount since 2003.

Wine consumption is still rising, but beer consumption is falling and spirit-based drinks such as alcopops and ready-to-drink products have also fallen by 10 per cent in the past four years. Lower consumption is flowing through into more sober driving. Only 0.7 per cent of drivers tested for drink-driving last year failed the test, down from 1 per cent in 2010.

Gambling: -3% (better)

New Zealanders gambled an average of $614 each last year, down 3 per cent in a year and down 4 per cent in the past four years.

Spending on pokie machines is falling. However, spending on Lotto products has jumped by 34 per cent in the past four years and sports betting is also growing.

The report estimates that spending in casinos probably fell by 4 to 5 per cent last year.

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Housing

Housing shortage: +1.2 people per house in Auckland (worse)

Auckland gained 4.9 people for every new home built last year, up from 3.7 extra people for every extra home the year before.

"Auckland's housing deficit grew by a further 4000 dwellings during the year to September 2014 - a record shortfall, due mainly to rapid population growth matched by only modest increases in new house building," the report says. The deficit is the difference between the number of new homes built and the number that would have had to be built to house the increased population at the average occupancy rate of three people per dwelling.

Housing affordability: +0.9% (worse)

New Zealanders spent 16.3 per cent of their household incomes on housing last year, up 0.9 per cent from 15.4 per cent the year before.

Oddly, this data shows that Aucklanders spent slightly less on housing, down from 18.4 per cent of their incomes to 18.2 per cent, possibly because of the ageing population so that a growing share of the population have either paid off their mortgages or are paying them off at lower rates. This improvement was offset by worsening affordability in the rest of the North Island and in Christchurch. But the report shows rents have increased much more than average in most of the country's lower-valued areas, apparently because people unable to rent in higher-priced areas moved into cheaper suburbs.

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Household debt: +1.1% (no significant change)

Average household debt increased by 1.1 per cent more than consumer prices last year, to $128,600. Most of this ($116,400) was housing-related debt and the rest ($12,200) was consumer and credit card debt. Average debts ballooned from 129 per cent of household after-tax income in 2003 to 156 per cent in 2008. It dropped in the first two years of the recession, and the increase since then has lifted debt to 150 per cent of household incomes, still below pre-recession levels.

Solo mum working towards better future

Solo mother Jackie Sigmon has a job - but any increased income for her family is only a long-term investment.

Ms Sigmon, 37, of Whangaparaoa north of Auckland, has three children aged 10, 8 and 4.

When her marriage ended a year and a half ago, she went on a benefit. Even though her ex-husband had shared care of the children, she had to buy a new house, using her half of the divorce settlement for a deposit. The benefit was not enough.

Last October she got a job in an information technology company, earning $45,000 a year.

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After paying pre-school and holiday programme costs, she says she saves about "$500 per month, maybe less".

"The reason I decided to go back to work is that I wanted to make sure that when he [youngest son] turned 6, I was making more," she says.