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June 10, 2020
Te Ōhanga Māori

Young Māori - the fallout of COVID-19

We need to explore credible options for rangatahi

This crisis is truly global, a pandemic that did not respect borders, nor the social and economic shocks it caused.

Māori adversely impacted by every previous economic shock, and this time will be no different.

The importance of the COVID-19 fallout in shaping the short-term and long-term socio and economic outcomes of every aspect of our society cannot be overstated. In recessions of the past, the unskilled and low paid were most vulnerable to job loss and community disruption. Further, without doubt, Māori have been disproportionately represented in such groups. Some suggest the current focus on essential and social sector work may mitigate this impact, due to the concentration of Māori in such work.

This focus on essential and social workers might not be enough, given the scale of the reduction in jobs – and many in non-food manufacturing, not to mention forestry, and also retail and tourism activities – it is difficult to see how Māori would escape. Even if Māori did escape from large job losses this time around, a post-crisis scenario where Māori are stuck in the same 'essential', but low-paid jobs is likely to be unappetising to many.

Moreover, the impact of COVID-19 on the many Māori currently residing in Australia is unclear. There is a possibility that some (or many) may move back to Aotearoa (and this could be a result of pro-active encouragement) to be closer to home, whānau, and whenua in this time of uncertainty. The situation and state of social and cultural networks, services, and infrastructure would likely be important in influencing such an outcome.

According to the latest Census, there were 71,079 Māori rangatahi in Aotearoa between the ages of 15 and 19. This cohort will be leaving formal secondary education during the most severe impacts of the response to COVID-19.

Rangatahi Māori will be a generation disrupted.

The question becomes, what are rangatahi to do? Historically, it was entry level positions such as retail, hospitality, and some manufacturing that are were attractive for rangatahi coming out of education. However, given the new reality, these might not be available. Also, not all rangatahi are interested in further formal education. Policies and plans by iwi and government need to ensure credible options, whilst considering the demographic structure of Māori and the inter-generational aspect of decisions made now for rangatahi in the immediate future.

Prior to the pandemic, rangatahi were not being inspired to follow traditional pathways. Rangatahi is not being prepared for future opportunities and our education system was not addressing the shifting population demographics that will determine our future. The response to COVID-19 has strengthened the pressure and has exposed existing fault lines in our society that need to be addressed. The world was already changing; the response to COVID-19 has hastened this change.

BERLhas a focus on the Māori economy. Currently, in partnership with Tokona te Raki (Māori Futures Collective of Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu), we are completing research that will focus on young Māori. We anticipate to release the report in a couple of weeks.