A generation of young Pacific women may bear the scars of Covid for their working lives, after they took a particularly big hit to their employment during the pandemic.
Pacific people already experienced higher unemployment, lower wages, and greater job turnover, and that did not improve once Covid arrived.
In a survey after the first lockdown, 59% of Pacific households reported job or income losses, compared to 42% of New Zealand European households.
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Pacific people had lower home ownership than Pākehā, tended to be younger, and often lived in larger households.
Plum said the effects of Covid on Pacific workers’ employment got worse as the pandemic, and lockdowns in Auckland, dragged on through 2021.
The people most affected in terms of their employment were Pacific women under 30, living in Auckland.
“And when we look at this particular group of young Pasifika, which also often have children, then it clearly gives us an impression that this must have put a lot of pressure on their financial abilities to make ends meet,” he said.
People who struggled early in their career often saw their job prospects and earning ability affected later on, he said.
“So I think for some groups, this might have a really large impact, which might leave scars for longer period.
“The extent they experienced it, especially for the young Pacific females in Auckland, that surprised me.”
Pacific people lived predominantly in Auckland, which spent extended periods in lockdowns and at the red traffic light setting. They also tended to work more in industries worst hit by job losses, such as manufacturing, he said.
Brooke Stanley Pao, Auckland Action Against Poverty co-ordinator, said a lot of Pacific people were on the minimum wage and under a lot of stress, spending time away from their families and struggling to make ends meet.
“It’s not just Pacific people too, actually it’s migrants [as well]. We use migrants as cheap labour in this country. And so, yeah, I think for some people, it’s gotten worse.”
Many Pacific families were part of the essential workforce, and despite being on low wages, they were required to carry the country through Covid at a time when there was a lot of fear about the virus, she said.
A lot of young people had to leave school early as well, to get jobs to help provide for their families.
On top of financial and job insecurity, it had been traumatic for many communities unable to honour people in the traditional way who died during Covid.
“I think Covid also managed to bring out all of the things that are really poorly designed about the system, or purposely designed to keep certain people in certain spaces,” she said.
“And I think, for middle-class New Zealanders and high-income earners, they don’t get to see a lot of those things; those things don’t really touch them. They don’t have to worry about how they’re going to pay their rent, or their food, or how they’re going to get the kids to school. Whether or not they’re going to be homeless in a few weeks.
“Whereas for a lot of other people and communities, those are real anxieties, they drive depression and mental health issues. If you don’t have housing and food, then people are just trying to stay above water.”
Being a small country, New Zealand had the opportunity to change, she said.
“We’re still connected to our food sources, we produce a lot of food here. We have enough to provide housing for everyone, and energy, real essential things in order for us to live good, healthy lives.”
AUT Professor Gail Pacheco, NZWRI director, said the report showed that change was needed.
“Covid has amplified the prevalence of ethnic disparities in the workforce, but it did not create those disparities in the first place.
“Therefore, policy needs to not only tackle recent Covid-related disruptions to the workforce but be long-term focused on addressing the entrenched disparities evident before the pandemic hit,” she said.
The study, commissioned by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, used data from Stats NZ, the 2018 Census, Inland revenue, and the Ministry of Social Development.