Unemployment drops to 6pc

CECILE MEIER, JAMES WEIR AND HAMISH RUTHERFORD
Last updated 13:41 05/02/2014

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The unemployment rate for Canterbury has plunged to its lowest level in six years, Statistics New Zealand figures out today show.

The Household Labour Force Survey for the December quarter shows the unemployment rate for the region dropped to 3.4 per cent, well below the September quarter's 4.2 per cent and last year's 4.9 per cent.

Nationwide, the unemployment rate was down to 6 per cent for the December quarter. This compared with 6.2 per cent in the September quarter. Wage rises remained modest.

According to the Quarterly Employment Survey for the December quarter, Canterbury had 9400 more jobs than in the previous year.

Industries with the largest job growth in Canterbury were construction (up 29.1 per cent) and manufacturing (up 11.3 per cent).

Together, these industries accounted for more than three-quarters of the total rise in filled jobs in the region.

Canterbury's job growth was behind Auckland's 15,700 new jobs, but ahead of Wellington's 6400.

The Wellington unemployment rate was steady at 6 per cent in the December quarter, the same as the September quarter, but down from a recent peak of 7.9 per cent in December 2012.

Auckland's unemployment rate also improved, down to 6.3 per cent from 6.7 per cent three months before.

Most market watchers expected national unemployment to tick down slightly in the latest quarter as the economy improved, despite the rapidly rising net migration to New Zealand adding to the supply of workers.

The Reserve Bank also expected an unemployment rate of 6 per cent, when it issued its December monetary policy statement.

Statistics NZ's industry and labour statistics manager Diane Ramsay said: "We are seeing strength across the labour market, particularly in the industries that provide services."

The unemployment rate has been falling nationwide and job numbers rising for the last 18 months, with both levels now back to those last recorded in early 2009.

Unemployment has bounced around, sometimes wildly, between 6 per cent and 7 per cent in recent years. It has remained stubbornly high since the end of the global financial crisis, having shot up from a low of just 3.5 per cent at the end of 2007, a 20-year low.

During 2008 and 2009, the weak domestic economy led to job numbers flattening and then falling. As a result, the unemployment rate rose fast.

Other figures released today included the closely watched labour cost index - up 0.4 per cent in the quarter and steady at 1.6 per cent.

The private sector LCI was up 0.6 per cent to 1.7 per cent for the year, exactly in line with economists' forecasts.

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'RIGHT DIRECTION'

Within minutes of the release of figures showing unemployment falling to the lowest rate since the start of 2010, politicians stepped up the fight over whether the economy is in strong shape.

"These results are further evidence that the New Zealand economy is heading in the right direction," Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce said on news that the number of people employed rose 24,000 in the final three months of 2013 and by 66,000 over the year.

"What is pleasing is the growth is right across the country and shows the Government's responsible economic policies and comprehensive Business Growth Agenda is creating the opportunities for businesses to invest and employ more people."

Opposition MPs were quick to disagree with the Government's positive assessment.

Labour employment spokesman Grant Robertson said the figures "can't hide the growing gap between the haves and the have-nots" under National.

"There are still 41,000 more people unemployed since John Key took office in 2008," he said.

That included 4000 more unemployed in the 15 to 19 age group, he said.

Green Party co-leader Russel Norman said other figures from Statistics New Zealand showed that wages were not keeping up with the rising cost of living.

He said that since March 2009, salaries and wages had risen 7.3 per cent, while the consumer price index, the most commonly used measurement of inflation, had increased by 9.2 per cent.

"Wages and salaries are going backwards in real terms under National, leaving people worse off," Norman said.

"With interest rates set to start rising next month, all families with a mortgage are about to be squeezed even further."

Statistics New Zealand said private-sector salaries and wages climbed 1.7 per cent in the three months to December 31, while public-sector pay rose 1.4 per cent.

Local councils appeared to be more generous, with 2 per cent increases, while central government workers had an increase of 1.2 per cent.

"This is the lowest annual central government increase since the year to the June 1999 quarter," Statistics New Zealand said.

BY THE NUMBERS

Unemployment rate:

- Canterbury: 3.4 per cent
- Wellington: 6 per cent
- Auckland: 6.3 per cent
- Nationwide: 6 per cent

New jobs in the December quarter compared to a year earlier:

- Canterbury: 9400
- Wellington: 6400
- Auckland: 15,700

- Fairfax Media

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