Unemployment drops to 3.4 percent, lowest on record

Unemployment has fallen to its lowest level on record, dipping to 3.4 percent in the September quarter.

Statistics NZ on Wednesday said the last time unemployment was this low was just before the global financial crisis (GFC) in December 2007. 

"The fall in the unemployment rate is in line with reports of difficulty finding workers and high labour turnover, and continued travel restrictions on international arrivals, which put pressure on domestic labour supply," said work and wellbeing statistics senior manager Becky Collett.

A year earlier it unemployment was at 5.3 percent, rising after the nationwide lockdown earlier that year and Auckland's August outbreak. 

New Zealand's unemployment rate peaked during the GFC at 6.7 percent, low by international standards. 

At 3.4 percent, New Zealand's unemployment rate is among the five lowest in the OECD, and half that of Canada and Europe. The OECD average is 6 percent.

Underutilisation - a "broader gauge of spare labour market capacity" according to Statistics NZ - is also at its lowest since 2007, dropping from 10.5 to 9.2 percent. 

"This was the third quarter in the last year with unusually strong falls, after last September quarter’s peak, which led to a record annual drop," said Collett. 

While fewer men are underutilised - working part-time when they want full-time work, for example - than women, women posted bigger declines this quarter. 

"As we're seeing shrinking spare capacity in the labour market with fewer people underutilised, the unemployment rate is almost even between men and women, and more women are returning to or entering the labour force," said Collett. 

Women also posted their largest increase on record in terms of finding employment - up 3 percent. 

"While employment growth was strong for both men and women, the number of women in employment saw the largest quarterly growth in the series." 

Women's employment rate of 64.6 percent is the highest on record. Men's employment was also up, from 72.6 to 73.2 percent, driven by the construction sector. 

Job site Seek on Wednesday said its latest data showed massive growth in job opportunities, at a time when many employees are reluctant to give up the job they have due to the uncertainty around lockdowns. 

The competition for labour has driven up Statistics NZ's labour cost index by 2.4 percent, while ordinary time earnings went up 3.5 percent to $35.25 an hour. Average weekly paid hours were up 2.5 percent annually, and average weekly earnings up 6.1 percent, to $1367.