What Minister?

Employment Minister Steve Maharey should wander over to the parliamentary library, pull out some of the late Rob Muldoon’s speeches, and examine them.
No, not for substance. It’s the style he should be studying. Then he should examine sample of his own speeches. It shouldn’t take long to recognise that Muldoon was masterful communicator, his speeches comfortably comprehended by the audiences of “ordinary” blokes and blokesses he enjoyed addressing. Few could complain that they did now know what his government was doing or intended to do.
Maharey, by contrast, speaks socio-twaddle which obscures the Government’s actions and objectives. Perhaps this is intentional. Political columnist Jane Clifton highlighted examples of Mahareyism in February, when he said officials advised him that “12,671 stable employment outcomes were achieved across all duration bands during the December quarter”. And he was delighted that “… 1493 individuals registered [unemployed] for four years or more made the transition to stable employment outcome”. rough translation: 1493 previously long-term unemployed now have jobs.
A few weeks previously, Maharey’s officials reported progress with the Government’s employment strategy. As well as updating the public, the document served the useful purpose of reminding those who might have forgotten that there is such strategy. The strategy framework, developed in 2000, “seeks to minimise persistent disadvantage in the labour market and maximise the number of jobs and the level of earnings for all”.
Six major objectives were set, among them “improved participation in employment for Maori and Pacific people” (getting more Maori and islanders into jobs) and “improving participation in employment for people with disabilities and other groups at risk of long-term unemployment” (trying to ensure everybody who wants one gets job, regardless of ability).
The report records 3.2 percent growth in Maori employment in the 12 months to last September and 6.9 percent growth in Pacific peoples’ employment. No similar data were provided for disabled people or others at risk of long-term unemployment, but numbers of long-term unemployed (more than 26 weeks unemployed) dropped by almost 10,000 during the September year to 28,200 people.
In the year to June 2001 the number of people receiving benefits fell by 1.9 percent to 805,137. More generally, the number of people in jobs increased by 2.2 percent in the September year (an increase of 39,000 people) while the number of unemployed (100,000) and the unemployment rate (5.2 percent) in the September quarter were both at 13-year lows.
Information from the December 2001 quarter was not available at the time of the report’s publication. Pity. The December figures do no mischief to total figures but some of the breakdowns raise important questions. Most notably, 30,100 more jobs were recorded in the health and community services category than in the December quarter 2000. This accounted for much of the total employment increase of 42,300 jobs during the year.
Some 10,000 new education jobs took care of most of the rest. The agriculture, forestry and fishing category, the boom sector of the economy thanks to strong dairy and meat exports, piled on 14,700 new jobs, but sectors like wholesale and retailing (-2900), business and financial services (-6500) and other services (-6800) lost jobs during the year. The net effect of gains and losses in all sectors other than health and community services and education was an extra 900 jobs.
BERL analysts spotted these curious developments and wondered about the implications. If so much job growth is in the (mostly) publicly funded health and education sectors, what are the implications for the New Zealand economy’s long-term sustainable growth path? To gear up to reach and sustain the annual economic growth rate of four percent aimed for by Finance Minister Michael Cullen, “we would need to create hell of lot more jobs in things other than health and education”, said BERL’s Ganesh Nana.
Or are the numbers unreliable? If so, doubts must be cast on the 42,300 new jobs recorded in the year to December and claimed as measure of the Government’s good economic management.
Going back to the previous quarter’s statistics, you will find they record 20,500 new health-sector jobs in the 12 months to September. This means that in the final three months of the year, further 10,800 jobs were created. Maybe. But there’s strong hint the stable employment outcomes which Maharey mouths on about are being rocked by statistical volatility when it comes to showing which bits of the economy are providing the jobs and which are losing them.

Bob Edlin is regular contributor to Management magazine.

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