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04 Sep 2020

Median Incomes Fall for First Time

COVID-19 and associated lockdown measures have seen more than a few records come tumbling down, as median incomes fall for the first time in New Zealand. While those lucky enough to have a job saw relatively healthy wage growth over the June 2020 quarter, there was a sharp rise in underemployment and paid employees with no hours. Different industries and demographics faced unique effects, with younger Kiwis more adversely affected along with people working in retail, hospitality, and accommodation. 

According to figures from Stats NZ, labour market statistics showed median weekly incomes down 7.6% to $652 a week in the June 2020 quarter compared with the same period last year. The measure captures income from wages and salaries, along with government transfers linked to superannuation and Jobseeker support, and self-employment data. The gender pay gap was steady at 9.5% in the June 2020 quarter, and the median hourly wage and salary earnings rose $1.26 or 4.7% to $28.26 for men, and $1.07 or 4.4% to $25.57 for women.

While median weekly earnings from wages and salaries increased 4.3% in the June 2020 quarter, this increase was overshadowed by a sharp rise in paid employees who reported no hours worked and no wage and salary income. There were 127,300 people who reported no hours and no wage and salary income in the quarter. This figure was 75.3% higher than the 54,700 recorded in 2019, with 76,300 people saying it was due to COVID-19. With further virus cases and restrictions imposed on New Zealand in recent weeks, the pandemic is likely to play out in the numbers for a while to come. 

According to Andrew Neal, Labour Market Statistics Manager, "A number of factors have contributed to this fall, such as people away from jobs without pay due to the Covid-19 pandemic and more people receiving Government transfers... More self-employed earners were seen in lower income brackets as well, with median weekly incomes down almost $100 a week... People reporting the pandemic as their reason for being away from their jobs and not being paid were more likely to be from younger age groups, and the retail trade and accommodation industry. Both these groups tend to have lower incomes."

In the current environment of high unemployment and falling incomes, mortgage stress is a reality for many New Zealand households. According to data from the Reserve Bank, 10,905 homeowners were in mortgage arrears in the first week of August, and 83,000 mortgage deferral requests had been lodged since the end of March, representing a massive 13% of all mortgages. According to the latest CoreLogic report, however, there is new life coming back into the property sector, with investors still dominating the market at 27% and first home buyers on the move as rents outstrip mortgage rates and insurance.