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Household Labour Force Survey: March 2012 quarter
Embargoed until 10:45am  –  03 May 2012
Commentary

Labour force expands as both employment and unemployment rise 

The labour force increased by 18,000 people in the March 2012 quarter. This increase was reflected in an increase in both employment and unemployment.

The number of people employed rose by 9,000. This saw the employment rate rise 0.3 percentage points, to 64.2 percent. This rise highlights that the growth in employment was larger than the growth in the working-age population. Behind the employment growth was an increase in part-time employment, while full-time employment fell. Total part-time employment increased by 13,000 (2.5 percent) over the quarter, to reach a new peak.

The unemployment rate also increased 0.3 percentage points to 6.7 percent in the March 2012 quarter, with the number of people unemployed increasing by 9,000. This indicates that more people have entered the labour force who are looking for work and are available. Behind the increase in unemployment was an increase in female unemployment. 

The increases in employment and unemployment resulted in a 0.6 percentage point rise in the labour force participation rate over the quarter, up to 68.8 percent. This reflects 18,000 more people in the labour force and a corresponding decrease of 19,000 in the number who are not in the labour force. This is the highest labour force participation rate since its peak (69.1 percent) in the December 2008 quarter.

In annual unadjusted terms, the Canterbury region had a noticeable decrease in the number of unemployed, down 3,800 to 18,800. The Auckland region had a significant increase in employment over the year ended March 2012 (30,400 people).

 

  Diagram, labour market overview, March 2012 quarter.

 

Female unemployment rises

In seasonally adjusted terms, unemployment increased by 9,000 (6.1 percent) to 160,000 people in the March 2012 quarter. This increase reflected a rise in the number of unemployed women, while the number of unemployed men remained flat. The number of unemployed women and men was the same this quarter, at 80,000. 

The unemployment rate for women increased 0.8 percentage points (to 7.1 percent), while the male unemployment rate decreased 0.1 percentage points (to 6.3 percent). The female unemployment rate was similar to levels last seen in the September and December 2009 quarters. The last time the female unemployment rate was higher was in the December 1998 quarter.

Graph, unemployment rate by sex, seasonally adjusted, quarterly, March 2008 to March 2012.   Graph, unemployment rate, seasonally adjusted, quarterly, March 2008 to March 2012.

The trend series

The trend series shows unemployment increased by 3,000 (1.8 percent) to 157,000 people, with male unemployment flat over the quarter and female unemployment increasing by 3,000 (3.7 percent).

The trend series adjusts for seasonal effects and removes the irregular component from a series. This can help reveal the underlying movement in a series. Refer to the Data quality section of this release for more information about trend series.

Employment rate rises for first time in a year

During the March 2012 quarter, the employment rate increased 0.3 percentage points (to 64.2 percent), after being flat for the previous three quarters. This highlights that the number of people employed has increased at a greater rate than the number of people entering the working-age population. This rise in the employment rate was due to a rise in seasonally adjusted employment of 9,000 people (0.4 percent), coupled with no growth in the working-age population.

The number of men employed increased by 8,000 (0.7 percent) while the number of women employed increased by 1,000 (0.1 percent). This is reflected by a 0.5 percentage point rise in the male employment rate, up to 70.2 percent. The female employment rate remained flat at 58.4 percent.

 Graph, employment rate, seasonally adjusted, quarterly, March 2008 to March 2012.

The trend series

The trend series for employment saw a 7,000 increase (0.3 percent) in the March 2012 quarter. Unlike the seasonally adjusted series, the trend series showed similar rises in employment for men and women, 3,000 and 4,000, respectively.

Unadjusted annual movements

Ethnicity – In the year ended March 2012, employment for all people who identified with the Māori ethnic group (including those who also identified with other groups) increased significantly, by 10,800 (4.4 percent) to 256,900.

Industry – Over the March 2012 year, employment in the wholesale trade industry decreased significantly, by 16,500 people (14.6 percent), coming down from a peak in the March 2011 quarter. In contrast, the arts, recreation and other services industry had a significant increase in employment, 21,200 people (17.9 percent). 

Age group – During the March 2012 year, there were significant increases in employment for people aged 50–54 years, 55–59 years, and 65 years and over. Employment in these age groups rose by 6,900 (2.8 percent), 10,700 (5.4 percent), and 11,400 (11.5 percent), respectively. This reflects an ageing population, as well as rising labour force participation for these groups. In contrast, people aged 35–39 and 40–44 years had significant decreases in employment, 7,300 (3.2 percent) and 7,800 (3.0 percent), respectively.

Region – Employment increased significantly in the Auckland region. The number of people employed in Auckland increased by 30,400 (4.5 percent), to 709,300 in the March 2012 year. The number of women employed in this region also increased significantly.  

Part-time employment grows

In seasonally adjusted terms, part-time employment has continued to increase, rising for a third consecutive quarter. In the March 2012 quarter, part-time employment saw a 13,000 increase (2.5 percent), to reach the highest number of people in part-time employment since the series began in 1986. Full-time employment decreased over the latest quarter, by 3,000 (0.2 percent).

In unadjusted terms, underemployment increased by 4,000 (3.8 percent) over the year ended March 2012. Almost all the increase was from women. People who are underemployed are individuals who are in part-time employment and would prefer to work more hours.

Graph, full-time employment, seasonally adjusted, quarterly, March 2008 to March 2012. Graph, part-time employment, seasonally adjusted, quarterly, March 2008 to March 2012.  

Total hours worked remains flat

In seasonally adjusted terms, both actual and usual hours worked remained relatively flat, both increasing just 0.1 percent in the March 2012 quarter. The number of actual hours worked increased to 73,880,000 hours and the number of usual hours increased to 79,741,000 hours.

Actual hours worked are the number of hours a person worked in the reference week (including overtime). Usual hours worked are the number of hours a person normally works in a week (including overtime).

Labour force participation rate reaches second-highest level ever

With a greater number of people in both employment and unemployment in the March 2012 quarter, the seasonally adjusted labour force participation rate increased by 0.6 percentage points, to 68.8 percent. This is the highest rate since its peak in the December 2008 quarter. The labour force participation rates for both men and women increased, by 0.4 and 0.6 percentage points, respectively.

In the March 2012 quarter, the number of people not in the labour force decreased by 19,000 (1.7 percent). Women not in the labour force decreased by a greater amount than men, down 10,000 (1.5 percent) and 9,000 (2.0 percent), respectively.

Care should be taken with interpreting changes in the number of women not in the labour force in seasonally adjusted terms. There is evidence of a changing seasonal pattern for the number of women who are not in the labour force. See the Data quality section for more information.

 Graph, labour force participation rate, quarterly, March 2008 to March 2012.

Canterbury hints at recovery

The labour market in the Canterbury region is beginning to show signs of recovery.

Unadjusted annual changes for the March 2012 quarter   
  Annual change 
Canterbury National excluding Canterbury  National
Unemployment rate -0.9 +0.3 +0.1
Employment rate +0.3 +0.1 +0.1
Labour force participation rate -0.4 +0.4 +0.3
Unemployed -16.8% +5.7% +2.7%
Employed  -1.8% +1.4%  +0.9%
Not in the labour force  -0.9% +0.2% +0.1%
Actual hours  +13.1% -0.9% +1.1%

 

For the year ended March 2012, actual hours worked increased in the Canterbury region, while employment decreased 1.8 percent over the year, to 325,600. Actual hours worked in the March 2011 quarter were affected by the 22 February 2011 earthquake. Usual hours were down 1.0 percent in the year ended March 2012.

The retail trade, accommodation, and food services industry had the largest decrease in employment over the year. The fall in this industry is reflected in the fall in total female employment, as women make up a larger proportion of this industry. In contrast, the largest increase in employment in the Canterbury region was in the construction industry, in which 7 of every 8 people employed are men.

These changes highlighted a divergence between men and women. While male employment increased by 5,400 (up 3.1 percent) over the March 2012 year, female employment decreased by 11,300 (down 7.2 percent).

In the year ended March 2012, the number of unemployed people decreased in the Canterbury region, down 16.8 percent to 18,800. The decrease was larger for women than for men. Female unemployment fell by 3,700 (down 33.1 percent) while male unemployment remained relatively flat.

In comparison, the level of unemployment for ‘national excluding Canterbury’ increased 5.7 percent, to 152,400. Over the year, the unemployment rate also fell in the Canterbury region – by 0.9 percentage points to 5.5 percent, still below the national rate.

Supplementary tables with detailed data for the Canterbury region are included in this release. These are similar to tables 3, 4, 7, 8, 9, 11, and 14 from the main tables. Data in the tables for the Canterbury region are all unadjusted.

To view these tables, see the Excel tables in the 'Downloads' box.

Proportion of youth not in employment, education, or training (NEET) increases

In seasonally adjusted terms, the youth (15–24 years) NEET rate increased 0.5 percentage points over the March 2012 year, to 13.6 percent. The NEET rate for people aged 20–24 years was up 1.7 percentage points, to 18.1 percent, while it was down for people aged 15–19 years, by 0.8 percentage points to 8.9 percent.

The male NEET rate increased 0.7 percentage points to 11.9 percent, and the female NEET rate increased 0.2 percentage points to 15.3 percent in the March 2012 quarter.

The youth NEET rate was introduced into the HLFS official estimates in the December 2011 quarter. The rate is calculated as the total number of youth who are NEET, as a proportion of the total youth working-age population. Refer to the Data quality section for more information.

Unadjusted annual movements

The NEET rate remained relatively unchanged for European (13.0 percent), Māori (24.8 percent), and Pacific peoples (19.5 percent) over the year ended March 2012.

In unadjusted terms, the number of youth who were not in the labour force, but were engaged in education, increased by 5,000 (2.9 percent) over the March 2012 year. This increase reflects a rise for women who were not in the labour force but were engaged in education, of 4,000 (4.8 percent).

Longer time series

The following graphs show the HLFS series for the employment rate, the labour force participation rate, and the unemployment rate over a 15-year period. A complete time series from March 1986 onwards is available on request.

  Graph, employment rate, quarterly, March 1997 to March 2012.

 Graph, labour force participation rate, quarterly, March 1997 to March 2012.

 Graph, unemployment rate, quarterly, March 1997 to March 2012.

For more detailed data see the Excel tables in the ‘Downloads’ box.

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