Young Kiwis and the post COVID economy

If you asked anyone at the beginning of the year what they thought 2020 would look like we doubt many would have pinpointed a world-wide lock-down. Many would have highlighted the various trips they were planning around New Zealand and abroad, the turning of a new leaf on the eve of a new decade and would have proudly boasted about the New Year’s resolutions they were set to embark upon.

Unfortunately, COVID-19 has brought us to a sharp stop.

The times we find ourselves in are scary, there is no denying it. We won’t shy away from stating the obvious: the COVID-19 pandemic is the largest health crisis our country, and the world, has seen in a century.

But the dark cloud that is COVID-19 has a number of silver linings with none greater than the fact that we – together – as New Zealanders united in flattening the curve, supporting our most vulnerable and to protect our healthcare system. Our resolve – reminiscent of the values we recognised recently on ANZAC Day – is a true testament to the Kiwi spirit.

As we head into Level 3 and slowly take a step forward towards ‘normality’, we have every confidence that as a country New Zealand will get through this health crisis.

However, what we don’t have confidence in is what the post COVID-19 economy will look like.

There are already tell-tale signs of an economic engine struggling to kick-start and a country desperately in need of some serious firepower. On the current trajectory there’s a risk our unemployment rate will peak at over 10%, GDP will contract by 6% and public debt will skyrocket. The collateral to each of these woeful statistics are people, ordinary New Zealanders, many of whom have seen their lives turned upside down due to no fault of their own.

As evidenced by former recessions globally, the negative effects of downturns often disproportionately impact younger people. All we have to do is cast an eye back to the 2008 Global Financial Crisis: countries facing severe economic contractions saw youth unemployment sky-rocket heads and shoulders above the general public; privately held debt kicked-up a gear and their quality of life took a tumble. The immediate impact is often overshadowed by the long-term effects as young people shoulder the burden of extreme government debt for decades to come. If we believe young people are already underwater with the cost of living now, the burden of public debt has the potential to be next level in the future.

Yes, this potential outcome is scary. Yes, there is a significant risk our economy will stall. And yes, it’s true young people are likely to experience worse effects than our older counterparts. But despite all of this, we have a once in a century opportunity to reignite our economy and brighten not only our futures, but the future of our country.

This opportunity should not be wasted. Together, we can redirect and re-launch our economy in a way that’s fit for the 21st Century and continues to deliver on the Kiwi Dream. Together we can move toward a more sustainable economy, with large scale investments that benefit us for years to come. Together, we can build a more caring society that protects our vulnerable and offers them a hand up so they too can benefit in what this new economy provides. As the famous whakatauki goes: He tāngata, he tāngata, he tāngata. It is the people, it is the people, it is the people.

As young New Zealanders we are some of the best placed to deliver these changes.

We need to put ourselves front and centre to develop, lead and own these new opportunities. As thought-leaders and digital natives, we have the chance to guide our futures, and that of our country, by putting options on the table that may not even be a current consideration. What we need now is bold thinking and a clear plan to get us to a sustainable and growing economy. 

This is the chance to have the big discussions around the sort of future we want for New Zealand, ourselves and the generation to come. Let’s work through key issues such as our lackluster productivity stats, the housing crisis or the gender pay gap and tackle the hard questions that have been begging for answers for years:

  • How can we develop our regions effectively?
  • What does tourism need to look like in a decade's time?
  • How can we reduce the cost of living pressures on the young and most vulnerable?
  • How do we compete globally and kick-start kiwi productivity and innovation? 
  • What do we think of a four-day work week? (thank you Perpetual Guardian)
  • How do we leverage our natural resources whilst protecting our ecosystem?
  • What does a 21st century education system and curriculum need to look like?
  • How do we jump-start wage growth to rival that of Australia or the US?
  • How do we build the fair economy where all share in the outcomes?
  • How do we become the global authority on quality of life, living standards and sustainable development?

This is no easy feat and we will need ongoing discussion and debate, but what we are doing is critical to New Zealand's ongoing success and our futures.

As the saying goes: “never waste a good crisis” and with us working together there is nothing to waste – our future is in our hands.

It’s time to get to work on building that future roadmap for New Zealand and it’s up to us - young Kiwis - to own that.


Sam Stead                    Andrew Mahoney
NZYN President             NZYN Policy Chair


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