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Pacific Progress: A Report on the Economic Status of Pacific Peoples in New Zealand

The growth of the Pacific population in New Zealand has been one of the defining features of New Zealand society in recent decades. Migrating in increasing numbers following the Second World War, Pacific people faced the challenges of adapting to and establishing themselves in a new country and a new social and economic environment. Since the large scale migrations of the 1960s and 1970s, they have become a well established and integral part of New Zealand’s social landscape, a vibrant and dynamic community experiencing considerable progress and change. By 2001 there were almost 232,000 people of Pacific ethnicity living in New Zealand, making up 6.5 percent of the population. The majority (58 percent) were born in New Zealand and the Pacific population is very youthful and should continue to grow rapidly for some time to come. It is also a very diverse population made up of people from many different ethnic groups occupying a range of social and economic positions.

It is the economic position of Pacific peoples in New Zealand which provides the focus of this report. Economically, Pacific people have always faced considerable difficulties in New Zealand. Their skills are not always suited to the demands of the New Zealand labour market and they have been over-represented among the unemployed, lower-skilled workers and low income earners. These difficulties were accentuated by the restructuring of the late 1980s and early 1990s, which had a disproportionate effect on Pacific people, many of whom worked in industries and occupations that bore the brunt of job losses.

Since that time there have been considerable improvements in the economic position of Pacific peoples, particularly for some of the younger, New Zealand-born people. Overall, levels of education have improved, unemployment has fallen and there has been a move away from the traditional areas of blue-collar employment into more skilled white-collar jobs. However, these trends have been occurring not just for Pacific peoples but also among the wider New Zealand population, and consequently there are still economic disparities between Pacific peoples and others. There are also some groups of Pacific people who may not have experienced improvements in their economic situation, such as the older, Pacific-born and lower skilled sections of the population.

These disparities present major challenges for Pacific communities and for government agencies. For such challenges to be addressed, it is important to have an accurate statistical picture of the economic position of Pacific peoples and the processes of change which have been occurring in recent years. To this end, this report presents the most recent and most comprehensive information on Pacific peoples, predominantly from the 2001 Census but supplemented with other sources where appropriate, and examines changes which have occurred over the preceding 10 to 15 years.

While the Pacific population is made up of many different ethnic groups, most of the analysis in this report looks at the Pacific population as a whole, supplemented with some analysis of each of the six major ethnic groups making up that population, namely Samoan, Cook Islands, Tongan, Niuean, Tokelauan and Fijian. More comprehensive analysis of each of the groups was beyond the scope of this report. The smaller Pacific groups such as Tuvaluans, Tahitians or Society Islanders and I-Kiribati are included in the total Pacific population figures but as they are relatively small in numbers they have not been included in the analysis of the different Pacific groups (nor have they been aggregated into an ‘other’ category as this would be too diverse to provide useful information).

In many respects the Pacific population has a similar social and economic profile to the Mäori population. However, comparisons with the Mäori population have not been made in this report as the aim has been to show how the Pacific population fares in relation to the New Zealand population as a whole rather than how they compare with other ethnic groups. Therefore, where statistical comparisons are made in this report, Pacific peoples are compared with the total New Zealand population (which includes Pacific peoples).

Part one of the report gives an overview of the demographic and social position of Pacific peoples, providing some background context for the more detailed economic sections which follow. Key indicators in terms of demography, families and households, education, health and justice are discussed in these sections. Demographic issues such as the rapid growth in the numbers of Pacific people, their young age profile, and the increasing proportion of New Zealand-born Pacific people all influence the changing economic status of Pacific peoples. Family and household characteristics, such as the greater incidence of extended families and one-parent families, as well as large family and household size, affect household income, living standards and housing needs. Education is a key factor in determining how people fare in the labour market, with improvements in educational achievement by Pacific people being crucial in improving their economic position. Socio-economic status in turn is likely to influence the comparatively poor health status of Pacific peoples and their over-representation in justice statistics, which are also discussed in this part of the report.

Part two constitutes the main body of the report, focussing on the economic status of Pacific peoples in respect of employment, income and housing. Chapter 6, Work, looks at what proportion of Pacific people participate in the labour force and are gainfully employed, as well as their rates of unemployment. Central to this is analysis of how these rates were affected by the job losses of the late 1980s and early 1990s and the subsequent economic recovery. Unpaid work is also examined, as this involves productive activity which is not always recognised on the same terms as paid employment.

The employment of Pacific peoples by occupation and industry is then analysed, showing the high representation of Pacific workers in the less-skilled manual jobs in secondary industries but also showing how this pattern is changing as more Pacific people enter skilled white-collar jobs in the expanding service industries. Self-employment among Pacific people, which is more common than in the past, is also discussed.

Employment is of course a key determinant of income, and this is reflected in the wage and salary earnings of Pacific people, which are discussed in the next section. The earnings of Pacific people remain lower than those of the rest of the population, even allowing for differences in employment, education and age. This is also evident in the section on personal annual income, which looks at income from all sources rather than just wages and salaries. The section on household income also shows that households with Pacific occupants tend to be larger and therefore must support more people on less money. This is not only due to the lower earnings from wages and salaries but also to the fact that Pacific people are less likely to have regular income from employment and more likely to be dependent on benefits, as the section on income sources demonstrates.

Income in turn determines the type of housing people can afford, and as the section on housing and amenities illustrates, Pacific people are less likely than others to own their own homes and tend to live in homes that are more crowded than others - although cultural as well as economic reasons contribute to this pattern. This section also shows that Pacific people have less access than others to motor vehicles, telephones and the Internet.

The report concludes by tying together the recent trends and looking forward to what the future may hold for Pacific peoples in New Zealand. If recent patterns of economic development in the Pacific population are to be built upon and if the disparities between Pacific peoples and others are to be addressed, it is important that both Pacific people and policy makers are well informed on how the Pacific population is faring economically and socially and the factors influencing their changing economic status. This report is a contribution to that objective.

The contents of these files are in Adobe Acrobat Reader format. If you do not have the Adobe Acrobat Reader you may download the reader to view or print this file.

Published in June 2002
Catalogue code 01.036.0001
ISSN 0-478-26908-0
Price, per title $25.00

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