Budget 2020 brings a completely different outlook on life compared to this time last year. The first Wellbeing Budget of 2019 was built on expectations of stable GDP growth and a tight labour market, and was underpinned by uncertainty in the international and domestic economic outlook. Budget 2020 will make forecasters look back on that time fondly, as the Treasury’s economic forecasts highlight a very different view for New Zealand over the coming years, filled with an exceptional level of uncertainty.
Real GDP is forecast to decline by 4.6% in the next year, followed by a further decline of 1.0% the year after. GDP is expected to bounce back strongly from 2022 onwards as the impacts of COVID-19 are expected to ease. The decline in growth reflects the impact of lower consumption and investment, partially offset by around $35 billion of discretionary fiscal support for COVID-19, as well as supporting monetary conditions.
The impacts on households are expected to be significant. The unemployment rate is forecast to be at 8.3% in June 2020, and approach 10% by September 2020. The last time the unemployment rate reached double digits was in the early 1990s. While the labour market is expected to steadily improve from 2022, it will take five years before we start to see the country return to pre-COVID-19 levels.
However, aggregate unemployment figures hide the fact that the economic impacts will not be evenly spread across communities and businesses. The economic impacts of COVID 19 will be more acutely felt by communities that already have higher unemployment rates, and in certain sectors such as tourism. Māori and Pacific Peoples’ unemployment rates were more than double the Pākehā rate pre COVID-19, and COVID-19 is likely to exacerbate this.
Budget 2020 has demonstrated that the Government is committed to supporting individuals and the economy recover and rebuild from COVID-19. One genuine measure of success would be how equitable that recovery truly is.