Dole numbers skyrocket

Many new beneficiaries just starting adult lives

JONO GALUSZKA
Last updated 12:00 26/07/2013
Dole
ROBERT KITCHIN/ Fairfax NZ
BENEFIT BLUES: A growing number of young people in Manawatu are on the unemployment benefit, including Danielle Henghan, from Feilding.

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The number of Palmerston North people claiming the unemployment benefit has ballooned during the past year, with many new beneficiaries just starting their adult lives.

There were 1042 people on the unemployment benefit in the June quarter of this year - up 19.1 per cent from the same time last year.

The statistics are also grim in Horowhenua and Manawatu, which had 22.6 per cent and 31.5 per cent jumps, respectively.

Those leaps are against the national trend, with the 48,438 people claiming the unemployment benefit across the country in the June quarter, down by 1000 from a year ago.

But the most worrying statistic is how many of those new beneficiaries in Palmerston North are aged between 18 and 24 years.

In the June quarter of 2012 they made up 27 per cent of those in the city on unemployment benefits - now they make up 38.1 per cent.

Start Youth Transition Service manager Peter Butler said the scarcity of low-skilled jobs had the greatest impact on young people.

The decline in basic manufacturing was especially painful for young people with no qualifications, he said.

"The days have gone when people left school at 16 and [went] straight into a job. Unfortunately, some young people still leave school expecting they will walk into some sort of employment."

The job market was slowly improving, but young people needed to be ready for it, he said.

"Most young people need to understand the importance of remaining in education as long as possible - either secondary or private training institutions.

"Young - and some older - people need to get better qualifications to get better employment options."

Anecdotal evidence showed the message was starting to get through, with reports that more people were staying at school until year 13, he said.

While some young people may get frustrated at having to hit the books for longer, Mr Butler said playing the waiting game would be worth it.

"When the economic downturn starts turning around, more employment options will be created.

"Those young people who are training now will have a great chance to get employment."

Palmerston North City Council economic policy adviser Peter Crawford said migration from New Zealand to Australia had been dropping off, which could explain part of the rise in unemployment beneficiaries locally.

New Zealanders cannot claim the unemployment benefit in Australia, so staying in their home country offered more financial stability. The rise in youth unemployment could be down to the difficulty of securing a first job, Mr Crawford said.

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The figures also had to be read in the context of previous gains and falls, he said. From June 2011 to June 2012, the number of people on the unemployment benefit dropped 18 per cent. Mr Crawford said commercial construction was strong during that period, with projects including Westpac's new site in Terrace End, Countdown in Kelvin Grove and Mainfreight's depot near the railway station.

Palmerston North MP Iain Lees-Galloway said the statistics were "terrible", and he was especially worried about the growth of young people claiming the unemployment benefit. "My greatest concern is that the young, talented people are going to flood away from the regions and into major urban centres."

Young people were competing with more experienced people for the same jobs - something Mr Lees-Galloway said was always going to end badly for youth.

BENEFIT BLUES

Danielle Henaghan says she never expected to end up on the unemployment benefit.

The 19-year-old Feilding woman had a job recently, but had been off work on a sickness benefit due to a leg injury.

A recent restructure of the benefit system saw her moved onto an unemployment benefit, which resulted in her being asked to do jobs she could not physically do.

"One of the jobs they offered me was squash picking.

"Does that sound good for someone with a leg injury?"

She said many of her friends were on the unemployment benefit, and not for a lack of trying to get a job. Sometimes they were let go under the 90-day probation period legislation, while others just could not find work.

Ms Henaghan said she had been let go after a 90-day trial.

"What do I write on my CV now?

"People just think you've been fired and don't ask why."

A Palmerston North 23-year-old, who asked not to be named, said she had been borrowing money from her family to tide her over while she completed her last university paper for her sports science degree. But when a friend went on the unemployment benefit between finishing his law degree and getting work, she decided to follow suit.

She had been hunting for work in Wellington and found nothing, so moved to Palmerston North a month ago to try her luck.

"I'm looking on Seek and Trade Me every day for new work.

"I have pretty much got a degree and still can't find a job."

Being on the unemployment benefit was "kind of embarrassing", she said. "I would rather be on fulltime work."

- Manawatu Standard

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