New Zealand's unemployment drop shocks economists but Māori joblessness is rising

Economists are shocked as new figures show unemployment falling in the midst of the biggest economic shock in a century, but the numbers don't tell the full story - Māori joblessness is rising. 

In the official numbers out on Wednesday from Stats NZ, unemployment is falling in New Zealand. In the three months to December it fell from 5.3 percent to 4.9 percent. 

Given Treasury was not so long ago forecasting up near 10 percent unemployment, economists are gobsmacked. 

"It's a remarkable report, a lot better than we anticipated. We thought unemployment was going to rise," said Kiwibank chief economist Jarrod Kerr. 

The Government is celebrating but it knows some people fall through the cracks. 

"All unemployment numbers across the world will always occasionally not capture people," said Finance Minister Grant Robertson. 

Trades union economist Craig Renney says the headline figures definitely don't. 

"You pop the bonnet, and you really have a look beneath, you see there are some challenges in the economy and you see there are some challenges in the labour market," he said. "Māori and Pasifica unemployment increased."

While the rate is falling the number of Māori unemployed is rising.

Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni is still chalking it up as a win. 

"It is a win for us," she told Newshub. 

When asked to clarify if an increase in the number of Māori on the jobseeker benefit is a win, Sepuloni said: "Look, in terms of the unemployment rate remaining stagnant and not getting worse for Māori, that is something we can feel some sense of relief over."

When Labour took office in 2017 the number of Māori on a jobseeker benefit in Northland was 4884, by the end of December 2020 it climbed to 7616 - a 56 percent increase.

Robertson says there is "always more to do" and "we can't be satisfied when Māori unemployment is high". 

This is the time of year when ministers splash cash around Northland. 

Jobseeker John Tautari from Kawakawa told Newshub he hopes this time the Government money train actually stops where it's needed. 

"I don't see it - there's no jobs around here they've created."

He just wants to get a job and doesn't want to have to visit Work and Income. 

"I don't wanna go there all the time. I just want to get a solid job."

He's been working the summer cleaning the carpets and floors of the region's schools - but that's all finished and he can't find what's next.

"It dampens my spirit especially when you get your hopes up," he says. "Missed out this time and you missed out that time and you sort of just want to give up."