The surprising demographic who took up the benefit most during COVID-19 lockdown

Of the 38,960 new job seekers during COVID-19 lockdown, almost 50 percent had little or no previous benefit history, and surprisingly, they were mostly Kiwis who earned more than the usual intake of beneficiaries. 

Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni has revealed the results of a study of the 38,960 people who joined the jobseeker's benefit during lockdown, which found that Kiwis earning $585 a week or more outstripped those earning less or with no previous income. 

She also revealed that 65 percent of the new job seekers were of European descent and Māori job seekers decreased as a proportion to 27 percent, compared to 42 percent last year. 

Sepuloni said New Zealand was not immune to the global economic shock caused by COVID-19 and had acted quickly to respond to greater welfare needs.

"At every step in our response we've taken an evidence-based approach: to fight the virus, keep people connected to jobs, rebuild our economy, and provide welfare support and interventions that work for those who need it."

The Ministry of Social Development (MSD) data also showed that of the new job seekers, 45 percent were in their 20s, compared to 37 percent last year. 

Sepuloni said the numbers are "dwarfed" by the 1.6 million jobs supported by the nearly $11 billion wage subsidy, but acknowledged they will "continue to grow, following an international trend". 

Budget 2020 unveiled on Thursday revealed that the wage subsidy will be extended for companies that can prove 50 percent revenue loss because of the lockdown, and that's part of a $50 billion fund to respond to COVID-19. 

The Budget also revealed sobering figures around jobs. Unemployment is expected to spike to 8.3 percent next month, peaking at 9.8 percent in September, and recovering thereafter. 

But Treasury predicts the fiscal stimulus could save up to 140,000 jobs over the next two years and employment growth of 370,000 supported over four years. 

"This is why we have increased our focus on employment services in all our service centres, across New Zealand," Sepuloni said, adding that more than 6600 Kiwis were moved into employment in March. 

Sepuloni highlighted the Keep New Zealand Working online job recruitment tool on the MSD website that connects workers and employers, which has been visited by 91,000 people, with over 7,300 jobs listed so far.

How will Budget 2020 help?

Trades and apprenticeships will be free through a $1.6 billion package, of which $50 million will specifically fund Māori trades training, which is part of a wider Māori Employment Package of more than $200 million. 

The Government is investing $41.4 million across three years into initiatives in the construction, digital and agritech sectors, and a $150 million fund will provide loans to incentivise businesses to invest in research and development. 

The Budget also set aside $1.1 billion to get Kiwis into environment-focussed jobs, while an extra $3 billion has been pumped into infrastructure - that's on top of the $12 billion infrastructure package announced in January. 

And a $216 million Kiwi exporter's package will include $120 million to help re-connect companies with international markets and supply chain partners, as well as explore new opportunities. 

But the big spend-up means core Crown debt is set to peak at 53.6 percent in 2023 and 2024, way up from below 20 percent before the COVID-19 crisis began. 

Opposition leader Simon Bridges is telling Kiwis to prepare for the "greatest burden of debt" in New Zealand's history, warning that it may have to be paid back with higher taxes.