Economy rockstars or roadies?

New Zealand's economic boom is not filtering down to Michelle Manson and her family of five.

Manson, who has children aged 13, 11 and 4, works 25 hours a week as a receptionist at a workingmen's club while her husband works fulltime as an aluminium joiner, but the pair struggle to make ends meet.

See the latest Fairfax-Ipsos poll here

"We're not earning enough money to live, with the price of food and mortgages and everything like petrol, running a car, running three children to and from school and not earning enough per week," she said.

Manson said they had downsized their car because of the cost of petrol and built a glass house to grow their own vegetables because the cost of buying them from the supermarket was so high.

"I tell you what, it makes a difference."

She would have liked for Labour to keep its policy of dropping GST on fruit and vegetables, as it was too easy to buy bad food to keep grocery bills down.

"Cheese and bread and butter and milk, it's expensive. You can go and buy a bottle of fizzy drink for $1, but a [2 litre] bottle of milk's $5." Financial relief was also not on the horizon, she said, with neither her nor her husband expecting pay rises in the short-term.

She was coming up to one year in her job after four years as a stay-at-home mum but despite hospitality spending reportedly rising, the Petone club where she works was not busy enough to justify a pay rise.

"People need to be earning the money . . . for it to filter down to be able to pay your staff appropriately."

They were receiving some help through welfare scheme Working for Families but that had dropped by $120 a week since she went back to work.

Now they had to juggle her husband's job on the nights she worked to ensure someone was home with the kids.

"I don't want to go to work, I want to be at home with the kids because my youngest is not even five."

Manson said she was insulated from interest rate rises with their mortgage fixed for the next two years but said they would not be able to cope with a rise in their repayment obligations.

She would be voting for a change of government at the next election.

"I don't think they [National] are doing a lot - it always seems to be the same thing, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer."

Hawera nurse Anna Tairawhiti is another who hasn't seen any extra in her pay packet in almost seven years. The medical practice where she works restructured last year but despite the upheaval, and having to re-apply for her job, still no rise.

Her husband - a truck driver who works "shockingly long hours" - got an extra 50c an hour last year. With interest rates set to rise, the family must do without little luxuries such as movie tickets for their teenage children, and alcohol.

"I've asked numerous times [for a raise] . . . I'm pretty much sitting [on the pay scale] not much higher than a new grad[uate], even though I've got nearly 15 years' nursing experience. They lay the guilt on that there is not enough money," Tairawhiti says.

Tairawhiti and Manson are not alone - almost half of workers did not receive a pay rise last year, according to the latest Fairfax Media-Ipsos poll.

For the majority (40 per cent) the increase was between 1 and 2 per cent. One in five got 3-4 per cent, and a quarter of us picked up 5 per cent or higher.

Despite forestry and dairying booming, driven by strong demand out of China, wages are low - and stagnant - in these industries, according to the Council of Trade Unions.

"Trickle down? Only the shit trickles down on a dairy farm," says president Helen Kelly, who says it is "extraordinary" that 300,000 workers are on or near the minimum wage of $13.75 an hour.

"This excuse ‘that it is all we can afford' . . . you can't use it in dairy, forestry, supermarkets - who are making a fortune - and you can't use it in banks. Some of our industries that pay the lowest wages are the most profitable. It is not a coincidence."

Federation of Family Budgeting Services head Raewyn Fox has seen no slowing of demand from people on the breadline.

Most of her clients not seen a wage rise since at least 2010, and have also lost overtime hours as businesses struggle. Any coming salary boost is likely to be swallowed up by debt repayments, built up in the lean years.

"For people who have had some kind of income shock, the period it takes them to get back on top is quite a long tail. So, we are not seeing signs of recovery yet," she said.

It's not all doom and gloom, however. NZIER principal economist Shamubeel Eaqub says the average wage will rise by around 3 per cent this year, with inflation around 2 per cent. And BusinessNZ chief executive Phil O'Reilly expects wage rises this year for the highly skilled.

A strong dollar will also increase our purchasing power, O'Reilly said. "We are buying more of the stuff that we want to - that is another reward for a strong economy."


On top of studying full-time, Karan Prakash worked up to 50 hours a week to save for a deposit on his first home.

The Upper Hutt 23-year-old worked at the movies while studying for his Bachelor of Communications, fitting in lectures by working late into the night - sometimes doing stocktakes until 2am.

"It was incredibly difficult, but I had to make it work because I was renting at the time," he says. "In the end it was worth it, because I managed to save quite a bit of money."

When he graduated and landed a job as an enrolment adviser at the New Zealand Correspondence School, his savings allowed him to purchase his Upper Hutt home a year ago.

"I'm a single guy so it was unusual at the time for me to buy a house, but I figured I'd rather pay my own mortgage than someone else's. It was a logical step for me," he says.

Prakash managed to get his loan at 5.4 per cent but worries about predictions of 7 per cent interest rates this year.

"It will become a bit harder if the interest rates on my mortgage were to go up to 7 per cent. I might have to tighten the belt a little when it does rise," he says.

Almost a third of those surveyed in the latest Fairfax Media-Ipsos poll believed they would struggle to manage payments, and 5 per cent said there was "no way" they could afford it. Two-thirds believe they can find the extra money needed.

Of those without a mortgage, almost 12 per cent said the hike means they could no longer afford their own home. A further 9 per cent said they would struggle to buy one.

But Prakash says his job is "comfortable", and the salary is enough to allow him to pay off his mortgage at a reasonable rate.

So far he has received two pay rises based on performance evaluations, and thinks these will probably continue annually.

"It's not huge amounts, but it's enough to make it worthwhile," he says.

He also has three flatmates who pay rent, helping offset his repayments. His parents have also helped out.

Prakash considers himself one of the lucky ones, and says he is "not too worried" about the future.

Sunday Star Times