The Dominion Post

Unemployme­nt falls to 4.7pc

- Tom PullarStre­cker

Unemployme­nt dropped to 4.7 per cent in the first three months of the year as more women found work, according to Stats New Zealand.

But the department says the number of people who had only part-time work was the highest it had ever been.

This does not appear entirely through choice.

Stats NZ said the proportion of ‘‘underutili­sed’’ workers, who had fewer hours than they to be wanted, edged up by 0.4 percentage points, leaving 366,000 people, or 12.2 per cent of the workforce, in that position.

There were concerns last year that the Covid pandemic was having a disproport­ionate impact on the employment prospects of women, who tend to be more likely to work in sectors that have been hard hit by the pandemic, including hospitalit­y and retail.

But in the March quarter, male unemployme­nt rose from 4.5 per cent, and female unemployme­nt fell from 5.3 per cent, both converging at 4.7 per cent.

Not all the numbers went in the right direction for female workers, however.

Slightly over half of the 366,000 workers who wanted more hours were women, and the increase in the ‘‘underemplo­yment’’ rate during the quarter was almost entirely the result of an additional 7000 women being in the situation of wanting more work, with little change for men.

The proportion of people aged 15 to 19 who were not in employment, education or training also rose, from 8.6 per cent to 10.8 per cent.

Stats NZ cautioned against reading too much into comparison­s with some other employment data in the December quarter, saying it had made a number of tweaks to improve the way figures were calculated, including changing polling samples.

But it said the methodolog­y behind its unemployme­nt data which came from its Household Labour Force Survey had not been revised.

‘‘There have been some gains in labour market outcomes, especially for women, over the past two quarters,’’ senior manager Sean Broughton said.

‘‘However, annual changes indicate the labour market still hasn’t returned to pre-Covid levels for men or women,’’ Broughton said.

Women saw a much larger increase in the unemployme­nt rate last year than men, and that rate had declined over the last two quarters, Broughton said.

‘‘However, they continue to have a much higher rate of underemplo­yment than men.’’

Infometric­s economist Brad Olsen said he expected the labour market to continue to have spare capacity over this year, ‘‘although this capacity seems to be concentrat­ed in underutili­sation rather than in unemployme­nt’’.

ANZ said the numbers were ‘‘very solid’’ but predicted that further gains in the labour market this year would be hard-won.

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