Jobless figures make grim reading

18 Nov

TALKING POLITICS BY GORDON CAMPBELL

OPINION: If the Government could take anything positive from last week’s unemployment figures, it would be to thank its lucky stars that those jobless numbers are being racked up in the year after the last election, and not in the year before the next one.

At 7.3 per cent, the unemployment rate has hit levels not seen since the end of the 20th century. The numbers of jobless – ie, the unemployed plus those who have basically given up actively looking for work – stands at nearly 300,000.

That’s before you start counting the under-employed, where the figure now stands at close to 400,000, an increase of 150,000 since the Key Government took office in 2008.

And all this is before the upcoming welfare reforms push more people out on to the jobs market in search of non-existent jobs.

In response last week, Prime Minister John Key suggested the statistics must be wrong, since they didn’t coincide with his "anecdotal evidence”.

Four years after the global financial crisis, international events can hardly be blamed, either.

In Australia, unemployment is holding steady at only 5.4 per cent. If Australia wasn’t there to siphon off so many of our job seekers, the jobless numbers here would be astronomical.

Our jobs crisis, however, is unlikely to change overnight the perception that National is a better manager of the economy.

An underlying faith exists that the political party seen as being closer to Big Commerce will be more willing and better able to manage the economy for the public good.

Similar perceptions exist in the United States. Until polling day in an election supposedly fought on the state of the economy, voters kept telling pollsters that the Republicans were more competent at managing the economy, but they then voted for Barack Obama by a reasonably comfortable margin.

Economic faith seems to have got disconnected from political action.

Generally speaking, one has to ask on what rational basis do voters – here, in the United States and in Britain – form the belief that the centre-right has a better grasp of the issues of economic management?

One reason, of course, is that the centre right tends to have had more business experience.

Yet in the case of New Zealand, John Key’s experience with Merrill Lynch, Steven Joyce’s experience in the radio industry and Bill English’s farming background do not entail much hands-on knowledge of job creation.

If anything – and as with Republican hopeful Mitt Romney – their cumulative business experience has had more to do with cutting labour costs and job numbers, and with tightening the economy, than with expanding it.

The minister in the firing line is the Government’s so-called jobs czar, Joyce, whose new mega-ministry was meant to co-ordinate the skills training, education and planning needed to enable job creation within a modern economy.

There have been few signs of progress.

Joyce tends to blame the Opposition for opposing mining and oil exploration – as if this was the reason for the jobs vanishing from manufacturing, and for the problems facing exporters.

National should be feeling concerned that like Romney, it risks being seen as focused on the needs of top income earners, and out of touch with working families.

Faith can be a fine thing – but faith without good works, as the Good Book says, is nothing.

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