Hundreds more on benefits as jobs dry up

JONO GALUSZKA
Last updated 12:00 21/01/2014
Nicholas Howard
FAITH SUTHERLAND/Fairfax NZ
SEEKING A JOB: Palmerston North resident Nicholas Howard has been on an unemployment benefit for seven months and says jobs are hard to find in the city.

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It has not been a happy New Year for many in Palmerston North, Manawatu and Horowhenua, with hundreds more people having to sign up for benefits.

Latest data from the Ministry of Social Development shows there were 4676 on the Jobseeker benefit in those areas during the December quarter.

That is up by 313, or 7.2 per cent, from the September quarter.

The Jobseeker benefit includes the unemployment benefit, along with some sickness and domestic purposes benefits.

Palmerston North was the hardest hit, with a 7.8 per cent jump.

Palmerston North MP Iain Lees-Galloway said the jump in the city and surrounding areas, combined with the overall drop of people on benefits in New Zealand, showed the job market in the provinces was tough going.

There was a 3 per cent jump nationally in people on the Jobseeker benefit.

While figures were not available for specific benefits, the number of 18- to 24-year-olds on any benefit had gone up 34 per cent - a figure Mr Lees-Galloway said was especially worrying.

"In December quite a lot of younger people pick up seasonal work.

"Clearly, there aren't options there. If that is not available then young people are going to find it hard, and it will drive young talent away from regions and into urban areas."

The job market in Palmerston North was not healthy for those seeking work, and that would only change if the city played to its strengths, he said.

Capitalising on the strength of tertiary institutes and the city's position as a logistics hub were two ways to create jobs.

Those benefits could then ripple into regions closeby, he said.

Horowhenua and Manawatu job hunters would be keen to hear that - those areas also had increases in Jobseeker benefit numbers from the September to December quarters, of 7.3 and 5 per cent respectively.

Tararua was the anomaly among nearby areas, with numbers static on 612.

Year-on-year data is not yet available, as the Jobseeker benefit was introduced in July.

It is not as easy as adding up the separate unemployment, sickness and domestic purposes numbers from last year either, as DPB and sickness beneficiary categories are split between the new Jobseeker, Sole Parent Support and Supported Living Payment categories.

Palmerston North resident Nicholas Howard said he had been hunting for work for seven months, but had not had any luck.

The 21-year-old said he left UCOL last year and had to go straight on a benefit. He looked for computer technician work at first, but quickly found there was little work in that field.

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Despite dozens of applications and multiple interviews for various jobs, he has been unable to find work.

Mr Howard said the multiple knock-backs were starting to hit his confidence.

"I plan everything I want to say for an interview, but then I go blank and get nervous."

Many people were in the same situation, and most were looking at moving out of town for work, he said.

"I've thought about moving south.

"I'll take up work doing building, or something like that."

There is hope on the horizon for jobseekers, but it is tempered.

The latest Westpac McDermott Miller Employment Confidence Index, which measures employment confidence, has risen to its second-highest reading in the last two years.

It rose to 103.4 in the fourth quarter from 102.8 from the prior quarter, indicating employers were hiring staff.

The report said the number of people saying jobs were easy to find was the least negative since December 2008, which could lead to the unemployment rate dropping.

- Manawatu Standard

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