The unemployment rate at 7.3 per cent was apparently a surprise to government ministers. True, this was a big leap from around 6.5 per cent a couple of months ago, but I don't see how anyone could miss it coming.
Even here in Taranaki where unemployment figures have been below the national average for a long time, we've seen some job losses from companies like McKechnies, Idea Services (IHC), the hospital kitchen and others. The number of people out of work in our region is higher now than a couple of months ago.
So, the picture is quite clear. Things are getting serious.
The problem with the political system that we look to for some sort of response is that it's either too defensive - "this is not our fault" - or it has no response at all - "this is beyond our control and there's nothing we can do".
We shouldn't accept either answer.
It sounds like a cliche, but the numbers are one thing and the reality behind them is another.
Each of the 170,000 or so out of work is a person, some with families, some on their own, but all of them with their dreams and ambitions.
In the modern world, having the opportunity to earn is basic to having a half decent life and having control over your life.
It's basic to being human that we like to provide for ourselves and make our way in life.
It's also a natural human thing that we like to work with others, to interact with each other and build our social life.
Work meets these needs. Work is economic and social.
The idea that we should tolerate that part of an economic system that systematically throws people out of work, not because of anything they've done but to satisfy bankers and investors who are wealthier and more powerful than those who are dependent on selling their labour and talents, goes against every other human instinct.
Whether we like it or not, work, whatever shape it takes, plays a huge role in our lives.
Which is why keeping people in work should be priority No 1 for any government.
I'm not talking about work schemes like the ones set up as a desperate measure in the 1930s.
Maximising work opportunities for the local population should sit at the heart of the policies the government uses to manage the economy and run the country.
If work was genuinely the priority for government, we would see preference given to investment in productive activities; activities that are not only dependent on hiring labour but which are technology-based and which feed into supply chains.
If work is really the priority, we wouldn't stand by and watch overseas investors buy up our land and become their productive base.
We would probably think twice about how much of our banking system we leave to overseas banks to run.
If encouraging work-generating businesses was the go, we would regulate private equity firms a lot more closely.
We would ask them whether their investment activity is just going to change who owns what is already operating so that money can be sucked offshore, or whether their investment is actually going to add some value and generate employment that would not come about if it wasn't for their investment.
And if encouraging business was the priority so they could demand more labour, we might question the whole debt-money edifice which is keeping interest rates artificially high and squeezing business.
A government concerned about this part of the jobs equation might use its own ability to lend from its own sources of capital to lend at low rates of interest, and really encourage business.
How about loans of small amounts at very low interest rates to encourage start-ups.
There might be some measures that are more practical. Like assisting people who are out of work to relocate to places where there is work.
Whatever the proposal, let's hear more of them.
With the unemployment rate at 7.3 per cent, we should be hearing about different ideas and possibilities every day.
At the moment we hear nothing.
Putting work at the centre of government policy means doing something else.
Treating those out of work with compassion. Sadly, that doesn't seem to be this government's approach to anything.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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