Wednesday 3 May 2017


I just can't get over the employment figures.

Migration is running hot: huge numbers of incoming workers. Incoming workers take time to find work. At the same time, the government's been pushing pretty hard on work-testing for beneficiaries - and that would have people responding to a labour force survey saying that they're looking for work even if they're not looking all that hard.

And yet, and yet... just look at this. Here's Household Labour Force data going back to 1987, annual March figures. I'm using HLF230AA for anyone wanting to check things in Infoshare.

The top green line is the working age population (age 15-64). That's had a reasonable recent rise mostly due to migration. If there were a lump of labour problem, we'd either have an increase in the number reporting not being in the labour force, or reporting being unemployed.

But that sure hasn't happened. Instead, we've had huge employment growth and actual declines in the number of people reporting being unemployed.

Just look at it. In 1995, there were 700,000 fewer working-aged people in New Zealand than there are in 2017. But there are over 5,000 fewer people reporting being unemployed in 2017.

Or compare it to the overheated mid-2000s. When unemployment was at its lowest ebb, in 2008, there were just under 80,000 unemployed people, 624,000 not in the labour force, and a working-age population of just under 2.8 million.

The 2017 figures have just over 280,000 more working-aged people than 2009 but a total labour force that's almost 300,000 people larger: 18,600 fewer people report not being in the labour force. 248,000 more people in employment. There are just under 51,000 more people reporting being unemployed now than there were then, but the labour force participation rate is 2.6 percentage points higher and the employment rate is 1.3 percentage points higher.

The employment rate among people aged 15-64 is 76.1%. There is no year, going back to 1987, that had it that high. The labour force participation rate for that age group is 80.3% - also the highest in the data going back 30 years. Only minor caveat is that hours worked are growing less quickly, although that wouldn't be surprising either if some shifting into the labour force are picking up part-time rather than full-time work.

We should be shouting from the rooftops about how superbly the New Zealand economy has grown to match the growth in those wanting to be employed here. Whatever your concerns about immigration, dey terk yer jerb shouldn't be one of them.

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