Nelson’s mayor has sounded a dire warning about the climbing rate of jobless in the top of the South Island.
The region had until recently one of the country’s lowest rates of unemployment, but Rachel Reese said that trend was now in reverse.
She told councillors, at a meeting today to deliberate on submission’s to the city’s annual plan, that figures from 10 days ago showed the impact of Covid-19 was creating levels of unemployment never before seen in the region.
Reese said in answer to a question from councillor Matt Lawrey, that the total number of unemployed across Nelson, Tasman and Marlborough had doubled to more than 4000 since 20 March, with the wage subsidy still in place.
“I’m told that’s the highest rate in unemployment rise in New Zealand.
“You can see the big issues that Queenstown has got, but if you took Otago as a region and unemployment across the board then it’s not at the rate we’re getting here, which is quite concerning.”
Reese said the projections were for unemployment in the region to rise to between eight and 12 percent, which had not seen since at least the 1980s.
It was clear from the messages she has been receiving that many have had their lives turned upside-down.
“They’re incredibly grateful to the government for the response to protect the health and well-being of New Zealanders from Covid, but they are actually terrified about their future and how they are going to support their households.”
Reese said those aged under 30 appeared to have been hit the hardest, with rates of unemployment in that age group now more than 40 percent.
She said the region’s ageing population meant it was a demographic the region could not afford to lose, if they were forced to leave to find their futures elsewhere.
“Most households in this region have been impacted. I’m having conversations every day with families where one – or maybe more than one person in the house is now unemployed.
“In many cases these are young, very talented members of our community who are having to have a complete re-think about their careers.”
Reese said the region’s fisheries were reporting higher than ever job inquiries, but the scene was changing weekly.
She said it was critical that the government’s economic stimulus packages filtered into regions like Nelson-Tasman, which had taken some heavy hits.
The Prime Minister’s announcement of increased funding for the arts and culture sector was heartening, because it acknowledged the importance of the creative economy, in which Nelson had a strong legacy.
“Events, arts and culture are critically important to the well-being of our communities – it was a good step.”
Reese said Nelson had a marginal benefit from visitor activity generated by Queen’s Birthday Weekend, with more than 3000 passenger arrivals at Nelson Airport.
“But that was… miles down on what we’d normally have with air travel.”
Reese said councils had an obligation to do what they could to help.
“If there’s one good thing that’s come out of Covid is the greater understanding of the importance of community, and at the heart of community in my view, is local government.
“We have an increasingly important role to play in the recovery process.”