COVID unemployment relief payments up 51 percent in one week

New Zealand now has more than 200,000 people receiving either Jobseeker Support or the emergency COVID-19 unemployment payment, new figures show.

There are 10,579 people on the COVID-19 Income Relief Payment (CIRP), which at present is $490 for 12 weeks, if people can show the pandemic is the cause of their unemployment - up 3619 on the week before, an increase of 51 percent.

There are 190,456 people receiving Jobseeker Support, which pays much less than CIRP, up from 189,720. That means 6.3 percent of working-age Kiwis are on Jobseeker Support, up from 4.9 percent at the start of the year.

"Job losses are still mounting, but New Zealand has so far avoided the incredible spikes in unemployment that other countries have seen," Infometrics economist Brad Olsen told Stuff, saying the wage subsidy for employers appears to have kept a lot of people in jobs that would otherwise have been lost."

Another $1.2 billion was paid as part of the wage subsidy extension between June 10 and June 26. Up until June 26, these payments were associated with 1.7 million jobs. So far 564,077 applications from employers have been approved and 75,474 denied. 

There have been forecasts of unemployment up to 10 percent which might still happen, with the economic impact expected to be greater than that of the global financial crisis a decade ago. With the pandemic worsening overseas the borders remain closed to most foreigners, cutting off one of New Zealand's biggest earners - international tourism. 

Unemployment peaked at about 6.7 percent in 2013, and dropped below 4 percent last year. 

The Ministry of Social Development's figures show the worst unemployment is in Northland - 10.2 percent - followed by Gisborne (9.6), Bay of Plenty (7.9) and West Coast (7.2).

The lowest Jobseeker Support figures are in Otago (3.6 percent), Nelson (4.6), Canterbury (4.8) and Marlborough (5). 

Overall, 889 more people were receiving some kind of benefit on June 26 (353,440) than the week before - about 11.8 percent of working-age Kiwis.