Friday, May 13, 2016

Lindsay Mitchell: Unemployment rate - how NZ stacks up

The unemployment rate rose slightly from 5.4 to 5.7 in the march quarter. I have only just had chance to look at the tables. What interested me most was the global situation.

That wonderful semi-socialist paradise of Scandinavia  has only one country with a better unemployment rate than NZ - Norway. Denmark is just behind on 5.8; Sweden trails with 7.1 and Finland tails with 9.2 percent.

If you've listened to any of the US presidential campaign speeches - especially Bernie Sanders - you would think the country was utterly stagnant and that unemployment was raging. In reality, at 4.9% their rate is enviable by most other country's standards.

Of course, unemployment rates never tell a complete story.

It's a surprise to see Japan so high (ie lowest unemployment) on the table given their economic troubles. Much of the wor
k is insecure and low paid:
"... the labor participation rate has risen during his three years in office, pushing the unemployment rate to a two-decade low. But the headline figures mask underlying weakness. During Mr. Abe’s tenure, the number of regular workers has fallen, while the percentage of nonregular workers has hit a record. The jump in labor participation has been fueled mostly by an increase in the number of married women and people aged over 60 taking part-time jobs as incomes of heads of households fall and the pension age rises, Goldman Sachs said in a January report."
And Iceland at number one? Not long ago it was bankrupt. Interesting summary of how that played out here:
Further, while Iceland’s recovery has far outpaced those of its peers, it hasn't been wholly without hardship. Employment is up, but credit remains hard to come by, and Icelandic pensions have taken a hit. Worse, the country is struggling to find new ways to diversify its economy; it’s currently promoting tourism and tech startups, but hasn’t exactly found a sector to replace the banks.
That sounds familiar.

At the other end of the spectrum comes the newly  unemployed  Greece, with 1 in 4 with no work, and the traditionally unemployed Spain, with 1 in 5 unemployed. Spain has spent almost 75% of the last 32 years with an unemployment rate in excess of 15 percent.

Out of 34 countries NZ is ranked 12th, just ahead of Australia and behind the US and the UK.

Locally, the key thing to understand is that,

New Zealand's labour force grows 1.5 percent
The labour force increased 1.5 percent in the March 2016 quarter, with 38,000 more people in the labour force. This was the largest quarterly growth since December 2004.
The labour force is those people seeking work. It is a subset of the working age population (currently standing at 69% and known as labour force participation rate).  Of those 38,000 newbies (who could young people entering the working age population, immigrants/ refugees or ex-pats returning, or someone returning to work after raising a family) 10,000 are unemployed.

So even though there were actually more people employed (up 0.2%) over the quarter, the unemployment rate still rose by 0.3%. 

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