New Zealand labour market – unemployment gap around zero.

The unemployment rate gap is the unemployment rate minus the estimate of the natural rate of unemployment. The natural rate of unemployment is the difference between those who would like a job at the current wage rate – and those who are willing and able to take a job. In the above diagram, it is the level (Q2-Q1).

The natural rate of unemployment will therefore include:

Frictional unemployment – those people in-between jobs. Structural unemployment – those people that don’t have the skills that fit the jobs that are available.

It is also referred to as the Non-Accelerating Inflation Rate of Unemployment (NAIRU) – the job market neither pushes up inflation nor holds it back.

The size of the gap gives us an idea about the amount of capacity in the labour market, and hence pressure (or otherwise) on wages and inflation. ASB estimate that the NAIRU is currently hovering just above 4%, the bottom of the RBNZ’s recently estimated range (4.0-5.5%). With the current HLFS unemployment rate at 4.2%, a NAIRU of 4% suggests the unemployment gap is currently around zero. In other words, the labour market is neither particular tight nor loose. This is of course quite a change from a few decades ago when a 4% unemployment rate would indicate a super tight labour market and strong pressure on wages to rise. Broadly, what we have seen is a fundamental change in the capacity and inflation trade-off, not just in the labour market but economy-wide.It could be that increased globalisation and technological change are facilitating a shift in these trade-offs, which likely explains why inflation both here and abroad has been so low despite historically-low rates of unemployment and elevated measures of resource utilisation. Source: ASB Bank Economic Note

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