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Making sense of the census: regional decline

Written By: - Date published: 12:33 pm, October 16th, 2013 - 30 comments
Categories: auckland supercity, david cunliffe, john key, slippery, sustainability - Tags: , ,

Yesterday John Key, some MSM journos and a few Standard commentators were gloating that recently released Census 2013 data showed David Cunliffe was wrong with his statement that:

people were fleeing the regions in droves,

was incorrect.  The NZ Herald reported, that in looking at the Census data on the regions,

Ms MacPherson said that these declines were not alarming and were part of normal population fluctuations.

Asked to respond to Labour leader David Cunliffe’s claim that people were fleeing the regions in droves, Ms MacPherson said that the new data showed steady population growth in most of the regions.

Yesterday in Question Time, John Key did his usual diversionary, attack performance, gleefully using a similar line disparaging Cunliffe’s claims about the regions:

Hon David Cunliffe : How does the Prime Minister explain the widening gap between Auckland and the rest of the country when most regions have seen a decrease in weekly incomes since 2008?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : I do not believe that to be correct. If one looks at real after-tax median income and compares it between 2006 and 2013, it has gone up 11.8 percent in Auckland. I note that it has gone up 14.4 percent in Taranaki, where apparently everybody is leaving—well, that is what they told David, anyway. In Manawatū-Wanganui it has gone up 13.6 percent, in Northland it is 17.7 percent, and in Canterbury it is 14.1 percent. It would appear that the statement made by the Leader of the Opposition is one that he has just made up.

Hon David Cunliffe : Why has annual population growth in the regions halved under National from 0.9 percent under Labour to just 0.5 percent?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : I really am truly shocked that the Leader of the Opposition would ask that question, after yesterday saying people in the regions have been left “with no choice but to leave in droves.” In answering that question, let us go to the census data—

Hon Steven Joyce : Released today.

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : —released today. Lo and behold, 15 of the 16 regions have gone up in population.

But yet again, this is just John Key manipulating statistics and data to obscure, divert and attack.

Today in the NZ Herald, there is a more in depth analysis by Isaac Davidson and Simon Collins of what the Census 2013 data shows that Auckland has grown at the expense of rural regions:

New Zealand’s first Census for seven years has found that Auckland has swallowed up more than half of the country’s total population growth.

The number of Aucklanders has risen by 111,000 or 8.5 per cent since the last Census in 2006, reaching 1,415,550 on Census night in March – a number expected to swell to more than 1.5 million after counting people who were overseas on Census night or were missed by the Census.

But an analysis by Waikato University demographer Professor Natalie Jackson shows that the population declined in most rural parts of the North Island and in many regional centres including Rotorua, Whakatane, Gisborne and Wanganui.

The population increased in most of the South Island, partly because of an exodus from Christchurch, where the population dropped by 2 per cent because of the earthquakes in 2010 and 2011.

Prior to the 2013 Census, there was already evidence not only of the movement of people out of the regions, as reported in a 2011 study by the above mentioned Professor Natalie Jackson of Waikato University.  It was reported in the NZ Herald in 2011 by Simon Collins.  This article focused on the halt to growth in the regions, and especially the decline in rural areas of people in the “prime working” and child bearing age group:

The lack of people in the breeding age group is extreme in rural districts such as Matamata-Piako, Thames-Coromandel, Hastings and Gore.

“The picture for the regional areas is rather gloomy in that they are going to have fewer young people,” Professor Jackson said.

The gap will also have an economic impact because young adults are part of the prime working age group.

The study says 42 per cent of local body areas have fewer people in the 15-24 age group coming into the workforce than they have in the 55-64 group heading for retirement.

In her 2011 working paper, Natalie Jackson presents a lot of relevant detail on the drain of an economically significant age group from the regions. [h/t Colonial Viper) This is summarised on (numbered) page 2

The issues and their implications are compounded at sub-national level, as internal migration of the young to the main cities and beyond has left most non-urban areas with deeply waisted, hour-glass  shaped age-structures. Such age structures not only face profound labour shortages, but are no longer conducive to growth.

The evidence for this is outlined in detail from page 19.  The Stats NZ website also contains more evidence of the unbalanced growth of the Auckland area compared with other parts of New Zealand.  This is not totally clear cut, as most areas had some population growth – the overall population of New Zealand grew after all. And there was a significant population shift from Christchurch to surrounding regions.

Nevertheless, the growth in the Auckland region has been far more intensive than most other places, with the Gisborne area being the biggest loser.  The graphic makes this clear.  The darker regions had the most intensive population growth, with the lighter regions the least growth and the white area representing population decline.

census 2013 Regional-kf

The general pattern is clear.  There is a need to worry about the exodus of the most economically significant age groups, those in the youngest working age brackets, from the regions.  In contrast there has been intensive (and unsustainable) growth around the narrow Auckland isthmus.

The Prime Minister can jeer, divert and mis-represent the data all he likes.  This is the stark reality any responsible government needs to address. There needs to be concerted efforts to support the development of the regions.

30 comments on “Making sense of the census: regional decline ”

  1. vto 1

    the more everybody merrily jams themselves into the cities the more space there is in the regions.

    I just don’t see the problem

    • karol 1.1

      heh. Well, I understand the desire for some living space. The problem is partly the age balance, or imbalance, in the regions. It’s not good for maintaining the economy and infrastructure in the regions.

      Also, having the bulk of the population and economic activity clustered around the narrowest part of NZ just seems crazy, and unsustainable. At the least we should see more focus on developing some of the bigger towns or smaller cities in other parts of the country.

    • muzza 1.2

      The problem is called – Agenda 21.

      Learn the problem VTO, and the reasons behind it.

      Easy to kill off the provinces, drive people out of them, abroad or to the cities.

      Roll it up, until there are as many people in as few places as possible, then pillage the open spaces, and take the lot!

      • pete 1.2.1

        You can believe all the conspiracy theories about Agenda 21, but if you read it, it is at complete odds with the ‘Neo-Liberal Agenda’. And if you think people in cities don’t care about the open spaces being pillaged take a look at the West Coast of South Island! The locals want to ‘mine baby mine’ till the place is ruined (well they want jobs and they think mining is the only option). It is the city dwellers who oppose the mining at Denniston etc.

  2. Zorr 2

    Thanks for this post karol

    Watching the deliberate innumeracy of many people when it comes to this is infuriating (to say the least)

  3. deWithiel 3

    What concerned me about the Herald report was the Government Statistician’s deceptive manipulation of the figures for what seems to me to be quite overt political purpose, ie rebutting an observation made by a numerate Leader of the Opposition..

    • karol 3.1

      Yes, I wondered about that, too, deWithiel. It was good to see the NZ Herald article today. Simon Collins is one of the more reliable of NZ Herald writers.

      I see today in Question Time, there will be a patsy Nat question on the census and population in the regions:

      JACQUI DEAN to the Minister of Statistics: What does the latest release of Census data show in regard to population growth in the regions?

      I hope an opposition MP has some well targeted probing supplementaries on this.

    • ghostwhowalksnz 3.2

      Its so clear that the stats are being delayed for political purposes.

      Where are the details of individual cities and districts

      yet they have the numbers for ‘regions’, as though that matters much.

      Its hide the decline for a lot of provincial towns and districts. Which is where National has a lot of electorates that are vulnerable.

  4. tamati 4

    Labour are seriously clutching at straws here. Providing agriculture stays strong and interests rates stay down, the regions will do just fine.

    It’s obvious that Labour still have an FPP mindset, that they need to win in the provinces. It doesn’t matter where your votes come from, just how many you get.

    • Saarbo 4.1

      Yes, agree Tamati. But areas such as Kawerau, Whakatane and Gisborne…regions that dont have Dairy as a major base are really hurting, areas that have been reliant on manufacturing and forestry processing. I know for a fact that Whakatane has had huge numbers shift to Australia in the last 5 years, and as a region the Eastern BOP is going backwards.

      • tamati 4.1.1

        True, but a bit of a ridiculous generalisation to say “the regions” are struggling.

        I was talking to a South Canterbury Ford/New Holland dealer, seems every farmer is buying himself an new tractor and his wife a Falcon!

        • Saarbo 4.1.1.1

          Yes, this October the 20th will provide Fonterra farmers with the biggest monthly cheque in the history of dairy farming in New Zealand. Some large SI farms will be getting $1m + cheques, so yep, some regions will be doing well. but need to put this into perspective, this time last year Fonterra announced a $5.25 payout for 2012/13 which meant huge losses for many farms. So Dairy farming may be doing well at the moment, but the really high international prices currently (Whole milk powder is currently >USD$5000 when long run price is USD$3500) will pull other countries/suppliers into the international market, maybe this will turn milk into the new coal…and we will see a collapse, this is often the cycle in commodity markets.

          But ultimately you are right, regions with Dairy are currently doing very well, this time last year not really. Perhaps in a couple of years, doing poorly again…Dairy regions will remain on this roller coaster.

  5. Saarbo 5

    Just a thought. What about a higher Minimum Wage in Auckland versus the provinces? This will help deal with the higher housing costs in Auckland , but will also encourage manufacturers to move their businesses to the provinces.

    • tamati 5.1

      That’s the whole idea of a living wage. The wage reflects the real cost of living.

      • Saarbo 5.1.1

        Yes, but given the cost of housing in Auckland versus the cost of housing in say, Otorohanga or Whakatane, the cost of living in Auckland is considerably higher. Therefore, a different Minimum wage? I just want to know why this isn’t doable?

        • tamati 5.1.1.1

          Same concept, different name. In the UK a “London wage” is pretty common.

          • Saarbo 5.1.1.1.1

            Is the “london wage” legislated or is it like the Living Wage (optional/moral). What I am suggesting is 2 different Minimum Wage rates for Cities versus Regions.

            Lets be honest, people move to Auckland because that is where employment is, its a pretty crappy place to live. If Auckland/Christchurch had a minimum wage of say $18.40 and the regions had a min wage of $15 it may encourage businesses to move to regions, it would also reduce the growth pressures on Auckland.

            • tamati 5.1.1.1.1.1

              Not sure. I think it’s market driven, then followed by the state sector.

            • karol 5.1.1.1.1.2

              It’s called “London Weighting”. I used to get it as a teacher in London. It’s mostly a public sector thing.

              London weighting was introduced for civil servants in 1920 and until 1974 it was set by the London Pay Board. However since 1974 the Greater London Council and later the Mayor of London, in partnership with central government, have been responsible for setting it. In 2002, teachers from across South East England went on strike to try to force London Weighting to be raised.

              In many professions, such as teachers, a different level of weighting is applied to Inner London and Outer London.[2][3] Also many employers use different pay grades for London as opposed to a fixed allowance, and some groups [the police, for example] have both a London Weighting and a London Allowance.

              I always understood we were given it because otherwise it would be hard to get sufficient teachers for London.

  6. Enough is Enough 6

    The mass mirgration from the regions to Auckland is a National (as in Key’s Mob of thieves) disgrace.

    Auckland is choking with over crowded slums. You travel 30 minutes down the road to Huntly where they are closing businesses down, streets are filled with abandoned houses and the main street is nothing more than a memorial to a town which lost its future in 2008 when Key was elected.

    • Aspasia 6.1

      A rapid and reliable train service would soon fix that! One person in a household might still have to work in Auckland but could live in Huntly.

      • Francis 6.1.1

        Good luck getting that in the next century, under National.

      • miravox 6.1.2

        It would be a whole lot better for family and social cohesion and local businesses and services if that one person, who is settled in Huntly, can work in Huntly.

  7. Crunchtime 7

    The pic is too small. Clicking on it to get a larger version doesn’t work, it just reloads this page.

    • karol 7.1

      Crunchtime, that’s the best I can do. The image is at the Stats NZ link that is in my post.

      • Crunchtime 7.1.1

        Oh I see, thanks I didn’t see that link. Useful. Making the pic into the same URL to the stats would be a good idea if possible.

  8. Ennui 8

    Sucker city syndrome……all the young go there but there is no work because all the factories that used to support infrastructure and make “stuff” to sell locally have gone to China…the regions get supported by just in time delivery by trucks from “sucker city”, nobody is needed to produce infrastructural support out in the regions….get it from the importers warehouse, throw away the old unit…”free trade” and globalisation has gutted our integrated local economies.

    Big leap for Labour…its all predicated on cheap energy that is becoming less available and more expensive. Peasants will return to the fields….eventually. Regional issue solved. Not very desirable but inevitable unless a mental leap is made and an alternative planned.

    • karol 8.1

      Well, Labour are looking towards more digitally-based industries, which, I think could be located more in regional centres.

      I would also have thought more manufacturing could be encouraged in the regions too. I guess that would depend on a better national railway system?

      • Draco T Bastard 8.1.1

        Manufacturing is often dependent upon other manufacturing which often means large cities are the only ones that can support it.

  9. thomas 9

    The regional decline is more akin to regional stability. Gisborne’s population decline of a mere 800 people over 7 years – just over 100 people per year – is not comparable to Auckland’s growth of well over 100,000 people. As you rightly said “there has been intensive (and unsustainable) growth around the narrow Auckland isthmus”. However, in the opinion of most advocates of sustainability, any growth is by nature unsustainable. We should be looking to the regions as models of how to live in a sustainable steady-state economy. A slowing population growth rate is good news in many regards.

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