ZB

Jack Tame: Why on earth should young Kiwis choose to come home?

Author
Jack Tame,
Publish Date
Sat, 23 Apr 2022, 9:21am
(Photo / File)
(Photo / File)

Jack Tame: Why on earth should young Kiwis choose to come home?

Author
Jack Tame,
Publish Date
Sat, 23 Apr 2022, 9:21am

It was always an inevitability.

The moment our borders opened. The moment Kiwis no longer had to play the MIQ lottery and could be relatively sure they could get home at short notice, if they needed. The moment most other countries dropped their Covid restrictions and started actively pursuing offshore talent, of course young New Zealanders were going to leave!

Wouldn’t you?! If you were a young Kiwi with itchy feet and you’d been stuck at home for two years, feeling as though your twenties or early thirties were slipping away, wouldn’t you want to make up for lost time? The pandemic has changed a lot of things, but it hasn’t changed our rangatahi’s desire to go and experience the World. That’s a good thing.

From a financial perspective it’s always been attractive for young Kiwis to go offshore. Before the pandemic, my sister spent a few years teaching in Perth, Western Australia. After just four years there, with performance incentives and the currency exchange, she was earning $40,000 more than what she earns for the same job in New Zealand. 40 grand! Whether you’re a nurse, a graphic designer, or even just managing a bar, there’s a very good chance you’re going to earn more overseas than in New Zealand.

But my sister still chose to move home. Perth had the cash but Aotearoa had something that Western Australia didn’t: family. And with the savings she’d earned from her job in Perth, six year sago she and her husband bought a little home and set up their lives in Nelson.

And this is where the Covid years have really changed the game. Finally, I worry, the balance has shifted. If you were a talented and resourceful young New Zealander living overseas right now, why would you choose to come home when you can’t afford to live here? If she were moving back today, it would take my sister years more to save up and afford a similar home. Honestly, she might never have got there. And so why wouldn’t she just stay in Perth?

Wages play a role but as always, the elephant in the room is housing. It occurs to me that many of those people moaning abut the impending brain drain are those who have benefitted most from the massive surge in asset prices. They oppose changes to housing density laws. They’d give themselves a hernia yelling at the radio if anyone dared to meaningfully reform tax settings.

One of my oldest friends is visiting from Toronto at the moment. She hasn’t been home in four years. The other day I drove her around a middle-class Auckland suburb and pointed at a random house.

‘How much do you think it’s worth?’ I asked.

We looked up the valuation. She was out by more than a million dollars.

She doesn’t want anything fancy. Something way-out would be fine. But she can’t afford anything. Again, why the hell should she come home?

We shouldn’t be grappling too much with how to stop the brain drain. It’s inevitable. The horse has bolted. But we should be asking ourselves what we need to do to make sure our young people return home in the future.