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Disability Matters: The Great Resignation and Income Disparity

If you’ve been thinking about finding a new job this year, you’re not alone. According to Auckland University of Technology’s Wellbeing@Work survey, 72% of respondents are moderately or highly motivated to find other job opportunities. Termed the Great Resignation by American business management professor, Anthony Klotz, this trend has also been reported in the US and UK. But what happens if you’re among the 36.2% of working-age Kiwis who are disabled and earn less than $15,000 a year? What are your prospects of finding a competitive role among the thousands of other candidates who are considering other jobs? And can the Great Resignation be leveraged to find job equity for those who’ve been historically marginalised by mainstream work?

Man using his phone and writing something down, while seated in front of a laptop.

Kiwis with disabilities are underrepresented in New Zealand’s employment statistics. Between April and June, just 42.5% of disabled Kiwis aged 15 – 64 years were employed compared to 78.9% of the non-disabled population, according to Stats NZ. It’s not enough, however, to look at the national disparity among Kiwis with and without disabilities. Breaking down these differences by region gives a clearer understanding of income and education distribution. In a report released by CCS Disability Action last month, author, Phoebe Eden-Mann provides an overview of key intersections in the disability experience: earnings, education and age (18 – 64 years, 65 years and above). Eden-Mann’s data illustrates Aotearoa’s postcode lottery, in which Kiwis who live in some regions (e.g. Wellington) experience higher educational and income outcomes to those in others. While the postcode lottery is not unique to those with disabilities, its inequities are certainly exacerbated.

Results gathered from the 2018 Census and 2020 June Wellbeing Survey show that 33.4% of working-age Kiwis with disabilities living in Canterbury earn under $15,000 a year compared to 19.7% of working age Kiwis without disabilities. In Taranaki, this disparity is even higher. Here, 37.4% of disabled working-age Kiwis earn under the same financial threshold compared to 19.4% of those without disabilities in the same range. In our most populous region, Auckland, 38.9% of disabled people in the same age range earn under $15,000 annually

Photo of Auckland, New Zealand.

Shifting to the other side of the earning table, the study examined the regional breakdown Kiwis who earn above $70,000 annually. Using this as our point of reference, it is Wellington that presents the greatest disparity. Here, just 11.9% of disabled working-age Kiwis earn above this threshold compared to 29.9% of non-disabled people. For comparison, 10.3% disabled Aucklanders in this range earned above $70,000 compared with a non-disabled population of 25.9%.

Taking into account other variables (i.e. part-time roles, hours worked in a week, type of role), what does this offer us, in light of the Great Resignation? From one perspective, perhaps the dearth of open jobs will mean more opportunities and skillsets-oriented employers for Kiwis with disabilities? It could also support the case for higher remuneration from employers who were previously hesitant to increase staff wages. While we don’t have any certainties around how employers and employees will behave in the months ahead – bearing in mind ongoing levels of uncertainty around restrictions – what we can do is support organisations that promote employment, training, equitable incomes and job security for Kiwis with disabilities: Workbridge, IDEA Services and Accessibility Tick, among others.

Another key action is to ensure an accurate account of what it means to be disabled in Aotearoa. Our response to COVID-19 magnified a number of gaps that New Zealand’s disabled community have highlighted over years. The pandemic also helped many Kiwis understand that inaccessibility comes in many forms, even if they hadn't had observed this earlier.

Man with glasses, seated at a table and looking into the camera.

More data is specifically needed around the employment of Kiwis with disabilities. This research must include te Ao Māori perspectives on disability, as experienced by Tāngata Whaikaha. Gaining a clearer picture of how diverse disabilities and identities are addressed in professional and public settings will be hugely valuable. This information could be used to inform workplaces on how best to support employees with different strengths and skillsets, and how to create work environments in which all employees can thrive.

New Zealand’s next Disability Survey will be conducted in 2023. Stats NZ is now inviting input from disabled and non-disabled Kiwis, meaning that you can make recommendations around the questions and content that are included. While 2023 seems like a while away, the last 18 months have passed by in what feels like the blink of an eye. Conducted every 10 years, the Survey is important because the results inform local and national policy-negotiation. To have your say on the next Disability Survey, use the link below:

20 October 2021


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