It is no surprise that the corporate media would uncritically champion the latest official unemployment figures from Statistics NZ's Household Labour Force Survey (HLFS) After several years of austerity policies that have seen thousands of jobs disappear, the corporate media want you to believe that the job market isn't actually a desolate wasteland, laid bare by the scorched earth policies of neoliberalism, but a wonderful land of plenty. You've never had it so good!
The TV3 News at lunchtime today ran a briskly cheery and uncritical news item, declaring that 'unemployment is at a three year low'.
Meanwhile the NZ Herald, acutely aware of its political responsibilities in an election year, spinned it this way : 'New Zealand's unemployment rate fell to a three-year low in the fourth quarter of 2013 as jobs growth beat expectations, led by gains in the retail, accommodation and hospitality sectors.'
So why then the obvious signs of social distress? Why are 275,000 children still living under the poverty line? Why are food banks reporting an ever increasing demand on their services? Why the growing level of homelessness?
While the corporate media obviously has no intention other than to parrot the figures that the government approves of, the HLFS is wildly inaccurate.
According to the HLFS, to be categorised as being officially unemployed, the respondent must fit three criteria: 1. They must have done no paid work at all in the survey week. 2. They must have actively looked for work within the previous four weeks 3. They must be ready to start work within a week .
But if you have done just one hour of work in the week, perhaps some gardening or childcare, then you are not counted as unemployed. Similarly people who have simply given up looking for work or who are not available to take a job straight away are not counted as unemployed. Such folk are defined as 'jobless'.
We can also add to this the National-led government's deliberate campaign of harassment to get people off the benefit. This is something that Mike Treen recently pointed out. He wrote:
The number of those on average receiving a benefit compared to the number of unemployed in the household survey is now about 130,000 fewer than it was in the late 1990s. The missing 130,000 are the reason why so many social agencies are being inundated for help for food, clothing, shelter despite the so-called recovery in the economy over the last year.
These are the people who living a precarious life relying on friends, family, charity and food banks. These folk are living lives that are going unreported by a mainstream media which would rather concern itself with the clothes politicians are wearing.
We can get a better read on the true rate of unemployment from the more accurate Roy Morgan Poll. It reveals that 519,000 people are either unemployed or under-employed:
The latest Roy Morgan New Zealand December Quarter 2013 employment figures show New Zealand unemployment at 8.5% (unchanged from September Quarter 2013). However, New Zealand under-employment – those working part-time but looking for more work – has jumped to a record high 11.3% (up 2.7%).
It should be noted that this is the fourth year in a row that under-employment has increased in the December Quarter. However, this year’s increase is substantially larger than in previous years and must represent a major concern for Prime Minister John Key seeking re-election. “This means a total of 19.8% (up 2.7%) New Zealanders are either unemployed or under-employed – almost identical to the figure earlier last year in the March Quarter 2013 of 19.9%.
Total New Zealand unemployment and under-employment is also significantly higher than when Prime Minister John Key won the 2011 Election (19.0%). Key clearly needs to reduce unemployment and under-employment during 2014 to have a strong chance of winning re-election to a third term in November.
The concern is that not only does the HLFS mask the true rate of unemployment but that it diminishes the importance of unemployment as an economic and social problem, a problem that has only been exacerbated by the Key government's austerity policies.
While the mainstream media is too reactionary and too dumb to care, the HLFS allows the Key government to continue to beat beneficiaries over the head and hound them into jobs that actually don't exist.