Teens suffer while leadership fails

GORDON CAMPBELL
Last updated 09:17 13/09/2012

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For most people, having a job is basic to their mental health and sense of social wellbeing.

Even so, holding governments to account for their competence at creating job opportunities has never been easy.

Even the most incompetent government can still claim that some jobs were created on its watch, and by the time you subtract how many of those openings were needed merely to keep pace with the numbers of young people entering the job market, the political waters are already being muddied.

And that's before you consider what the private sector could reasonably be doing to hire more people, or whether job seekers are sufficiently motivated and trained for those jobs that do exist.

Meanwhile, the global financial conditions can be blamed for anything and everything.

As a consequence, the current government has had plenty of room to hide from the recent avalanche of bad news about job losses.

Scores of jobs were scrapped last week alone in mining and aluminium smelting and food manufacturing, in places ranging from Bluff and Christchurch to Tauranga.

Predictably, Finance Minister Bill English blamed the global financial conditions, and tried to accentuate the positive.

Some sectors, Mr English claimed, are doing just fine and besides, the Key government has created 54,000 new jobs - which, in 3.5 years in office, averages out at a less impressive 15,500 new jobs a year.

That's hardly enough to meet the influx of new entrants, let alone to spark a jobs recovery.

In fact, the 27.6 per cent unemployment rate for 15 to 19-year- olds is at its highest point in more than 25 years, and global conditions can hardly be blamed for the way New Zealand is failing its young people.

According to the New Zealand Institute, the teenage share of our total unemployment is - at 26.2 per cent - the highest among all developed countries.

If the government seems bereft of ideas on the job creation front, so do its critics. New Zealand First's Winston Peters and Labour's David Shearer called for concerted action to bring down the exchange rate - which to stretch an analogy, is a bit like putting out a fire by calling for someone to build a fire station as soon as possible.

The outlook is hardly encouraging either.

The unemployment estimates until 2014 issued last month by the new Business, Innovation and Employment super-ministry headed by Steven Joyce are, in fact, even gloomier than the forecasts made by Treasury only a few months ago in the Budget.

Mr Joyce, you might recall, was appointed with much fanfare as the government's so-called 'Jobs Czar' shortly after the last election.

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If he seems that pessimistic about the likely outcome of his own job creation efforts, perhaps we should all be heading for the lifeboats. Or for Australia.

Arguably, cutting state spending (and jobs) in the teeth of a recession was always a bad idea.

Private enterprise in New Zealand has rarely been able to create a climate of opportunity and growth all by itself.

It largely relies for prosperity on a healthy and expanding public sector.

In other words, the government will have to show some economic leadership as well as political leadership if today's youth are ever going to see a positive future for themselves in this country

- Kapiti Observer

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