Guardian Senior Reporter
Published: Sep 17, 2012
The glory days of single digit unemployment seem so far away that many fear they will never be seen again.
For years now, unemployment has remained near record highs in the country’s history. Last week’s jobs report was no different.
On Friday, the Department of Statistics revealed that unemployment is slightly down nationwide; however, the prospects of there being a downward trend when the survey is taken again later this year are doubtful.
Unemployment dropped from 15.9 percent to 14.7 throughout the country, according to the 2012 Labour Force Survey, which was conducted in May and referenced the last few days of April.
The survey showed that on New Providence, unemployment fell from 15.1 percent to 14 percent. Grand Bahama’s unemployment rate fell from 21.2 percent to 17.3 percent.
This seems like good news on the face of it, but when one drills into what data was available Friday, it becomes quite clear that the drop in unemployment is pretty much an aberration fueled mainly by the Ingraham administration’s pre-election job program.
The problem with the job program is that it was only set up to last 52-weeks and the Christie administration appears to have no intention of extending it.
Every month, until next summer, there will be a wave of layoffs as the contracts of those hired under the program expire. The first round of layoffs began at the end of August.
But even if every one of the more than 3,000 jobs created by the program were to be extended, unemployment will likely still climb in the short term.
The fact of the matter is that as the New Providence Road Improvement Project comes to a close, construction jobs are drying up and the government, with a $550 million deficit projected this fiscal year, has no more money for large-scale projects, let alone money to hand out thousands of short-term contracts to barely qualified people.
What the numbers tell us
The data made public by the Department of Statistics in this latest survey is pretty basic and lacking in the categorical detail needed for thorough sector analysis, but a quick look at the cursory numbers shows that at least one very troubling trend is emerging.
As is the case in education, women are outdistancing men; the unemployment rate among women is 13.4 percent, while the unemployment rate among men is 16 percent.
Basically, more women have jobs than men, while fewer women are unemployed and/or discouraged.
And the number of unemployed women is dropping, while the number of unemployed men is moving in the opposite direction.
The survey shows that 15,145 men were counted as unemployed compared to 12,980 women.
According to the last survey, conducted in November, 15,600 men were counted as unemployed compared to 14,660 women.
The latest survey shows that throughout the country, 83,935 women are employed compared to 79,935 men.
Also, as Director of Statistics Kelsie Dorsett pointed out to The Guardian on Friday, traditionally male-dominated jobs appear to be falling away and men are, for the most part, failing to equip themselves for alternative types of employment.
Dorsett noted that three quarters of The College of The Bahamas’ graduates in recent years have been female.
The survey also shows that more men have given up looking for work altogether, though a greater number of women who have never worked before are not even trying to find work.
The Grand Bahama problem
The second most populated island in the country has been in more of a state of depression rather than a recession; the jobs report indicates nothing much has changed.
As the number of discouraged workers dropped nationwide by three percent during the latest survey, the number of discouraged workers on Grand Bahama actually grew by 12 percent; this, even though the government employed about 1,000 people through its job program.
Minister of Grand Bahama Dr. Michael Darville declined to comment on the survey when contacted by The Guardian Friday. He claimed to have not yet seen the report.
However, Darville does not need to read the report to know that he is charged with a daunting task.
Last month, he told The Guardian that the Christie administration plans to create 4,000 jobs on the island over the next five years.
That will prove a tough task.
However, all is not lost for Grand Bahama.
Prime Minister Perry Christie recently hinted at a major development for Grand Bahama that could come on stream in the short term.
The Grand Bahama shipyard also recently boasted that its business could generate up to 120,000 room nights on the island before the end of the year.
The construction of World Mart, a $200 million, 1.1 million square-foot facility that will be built by the Chinese to showcase, house and distribute products to North America, Latin America and the Caribbean, has received preliminary approval by the Grand Bahama Port Authority.
It is estimated it will create 1,200 construction jobs over a two-year build-out, and up to 3,000 jobs upon completion.
But it is still unclear if and when World Mart will begin.
What the future holds
Prime Minister Christie continues to say that he is “optimistic” about the future of the economy.
But his optimism will have to translate into actuality if Christie hopes to fulfill Deputy Prime Minister Philip Brave Davis’ promise that his administration will create 10,000 jobs within its first year in office.
Davis also claimed the government intends to create 30,000 jobs within this term.
The prime minister and deputy prime minister have pledged to review old projects and attract new investors, much like the last Christie administration did.
However, this administration took office as the world sluggishly recovers from a deep recession.
Though there are a few bright spots on the horizon.
Baha Mar is slated to open in 2014, employing thousands on property and tangentially.
Albany just announced the construction of its marina towers, expected to employ up to 1,000 people during construction and once it opens.
Hundreds more are expected to be employed once the Resorts World Bimini Bay Casino opens on that island.
But this administration will have to work overtime to secure jobs for thousands as the informal employment sector shrinks and more and more Bahamians find themselves among the perpetually unemployed.