The workers who've lost the most income thanks to COVID-19

The first-ever annual drop in Kiwis' incomes has been driven by plummeting pay for the self-employed, new figures show.

The median weekly income fell 7.6 percent in the June quarter, compared to a year earlier. Self-employed people on average had their incomes drop 12.5 percent - dropping $96 to $671.

"A number of factors have contributed to this fall, such as people away from jobs without pay due to the COVID-19 pandemic and more people receiving government transfers," said labour market statistics manager Andrew Neal.

"More self-employed earners were seen in lower income brackets as well, with median weekly incomes down almost $100 a week."

NZ's median income, 1998-2020.
NZ's median income, 1998-2020. Photo credit: Statistics NZ

It's not the first time incomes for the self-employed have fallen since Statistics NZ began tracking it in the late 1990s. In 2008, as the global financial crisis hit, they dropped 8.6 percent. Incomes overall stayed flat between then and 2013, when they began rising again. 

"Self-employed people may be working fewer hours, have reduced their takings from business cashflows, or have had less business, among other reasons," said Neal. 

Despite the drop in hours for not just the self-employed but many other employees, median earnings from wages and salaries still rose - up 4.3 percent to $1060 a week. This is because most people who can't work during level 3 and 4 lockdowns are on low incomes - if they report zero earnings, they're not included in the statistics for wages and salaries, but are included in the overall figure. 

"People reporting the pandemic as their reason for being away from their jobs and not being paid were more likely to be from younger age groups, and the retail trade and accommodation industry," Neal said.

"Both these groups tend to have lower incomes... those [still working] were more likely to be in higher income brackets, increasing the median income measure."

The number of people reporting no income from wages or salary rose 75.3 percent to 127,300 - most blaming COVID-19.

The median amount of money for people receiving money from the Government increased 6.7 percent to $364, driven by recent increases to benefits and the higher amount given to people who lost their jobs due to COVID-19. 

"The largest increases occurred within the 20-24 years age group, up 8.6 percent to $267 a week, and the 60-64 years age group, up 14.5 percent to $335 a week. Following closely was the 65 years and over age group, up 3.2 percent to $371 a week."

Groups forced out of work during the lockdowns.
Groups forced out of work during the lockdowns. Photo credit: Statistics NZ

The official unemployment numbers surprisingly didn't rise during the lockdown, but it's widely believed they will at the next update, expected in November.