Getting Bahamians back to work
Guardian Broadcast Editor
Published: Oct 28, 2013
Even though last week’s jobs report painted a much more dismal picture of national unemployment than many were expecting, we shouldn’t judge the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) too harshly.
Yes, its deputy leader promised an impossible 10,000 jobs would be created in the resurgent Christie administration’s first year.
Yes, the PLP held a job creation summit and dozens of rallies in the prelude to the general election in which it promised to lower taxes, cut spending, curb borrowing, reacquire national assets and drag more than 8,000 households out of poverty; so far having done pretty much none of that.
Yes, the PLP erroneously stated over and over, despite The Nassau Guardian disproving it, that it created at least 22,000 jobs during the Christie administration’s last term in office, and would create even more this time around.
Yes, the PLP Charter for Governance: Vision 2030 committed to “doubling the nation’s investment in education and human development”, though it has since become clear that this was in no way a monetary or infrastructural commitment; it was more of an idea really, a doubling in some as yet unidentified person’s resolve to do something still unspecified, so to speak.
And yes, the PLP rejected outright the Free National Movement’s (FNM) cry that global economic forces were responsible for the horrid state of the Bahamian economy.
But hey, that’s politics isn’t it?
Bahamian politicians will say and promise just about anything to attain power and keep it.
After all, the FNM made plenty of wild promises of its own.
The PLP has only been in power for about 18 months, and to stick this jobs report on the party would be unfair.
It would also be unfair to pin it squarely on the FNM, because even though the FNM made many missteps during its last term, there was, after all, a global economic downturn, whether the PLP accepts it or not.
It is hoped that by now, in its rush to raise taxes, despite a promise not to do so, the PLP would have had a chance to stare reality in the face and confess that the global economic recovery now occurring is weaker than everyone previously thought.
This means, quite simply, that it is unclear when unemployment levels will drop in a sustained, significant way, and the Christie administration, like the Ingraham administration, has no crystal ball, but rather must pull out all the stops to get Bahamians back to work as it incessantly pledged to do.
Then again, why let reality affect the narrative?
At 16.2 percent, the unemployment rate, which was gauged from April 29 to May 5, 2013, is up from 14 percent the last time the survey was released in February, which gauged numbers in November 2012.
The latest numbers show that the unemployment rate on New Providence rose to 15.9 percent from 13.1 percent, and the rate on Grand Bahama jumped to 19.5 percent from 18 percent.
The survey shows a 3.1 percent increase in the labor force since the last survey conducted in November 2012.
According to the Department of Statistics, there are 31,665 people out of work in The Bahamas.
The department claims that the unemployment rate has gone up because more discouraged workers have joined the workforce in anticipation of finding work.
The data shows discouraged workers declined overall by 33 percent.
A look at the department’s own data shows that while it appears that about 3,940 discouraged workers on New Providence and Grand Bahama have once again started to look for work, there is another factor.
Employment has simply contracted.
When the last Labour Force Survey was taken, there were 165,255 people employed in The Bahamas. The most recent survey shows that there were 163,995 people working in The Bahamas. That’s 1,260 fewer jobs no matter which way you slice it.
While things improved on New Providence with 122,155 people working in the May survey compared to 119,925 working in the November survey, Grand Bahama continued to suffer.
In Grand Bahama, employment dipped from 23,930 in November to 20,215 in the May sample.
Also troubling was that unemployment among those ages 15 to 24 nationwide grew slightly from 30.7 percent to 30.8 percent.
There is no category where there is even close to no unemployment or what some would term an irreducible minimum.
Of the 96,535 women in the labor pool, 80,835 are employed. Of the 99,125 men in the labor pool, 83,160 are employed.
Of the 34,405 people age 15 to 24 in the labor market, 23,815 are employed.
Of the 23,615 people age 25 to 29 in the labor market, 19,030 are employed, which translates to 19.4 percent unemployment.
Of the 22,080 people age 30 to 34 in the labor market, 19,200, which translates to 13 percent unemployment.
Of the 23,280 people age 35 to 39 in the labor market, 19,480 are employed, which translates to 16.3 percent unemployment.
Of the 24,640 people age 40 to 44 in the labor market, 22,225 are employed, which translates to 9.8 percent unemployment.
Of the 23,075 people age 45 to 49 in the labor market, 20,810 are employed, which translates to 9.8 percent unemployment.
Of the 19,020 people age 50 to 54 in the labor market, 17,055 are employed, which translates to 10.3 percent unemployment.
Of the 12,985 people age 55 to 59 in the labor market, 11,235 are employed, which translates to 13.4 percent unemployment.
Of the 6,615 people age 60 to 64 in the labor market, 5,855 are employed, which translates to 11.5 percent unemployment.
Of the 4,980 people age 65 and over in the labor market, 4,430 are employed, which translates to 11 percent unemployment.
The case for optimism
Things look particularly grim, no matter what the department says about discouraged workers. The number of discouraged workers also decreased notably during the November survey (11 percent), yet unemployment dropped from 14.7 percent to 14 percent in that instance.
But there’s hope.
After being contacted for comment on the jobs report after its release last Wednesday, Minister of State for Finance Michael Halkitis said the numbers also show that people are hopeful about employment opportunities and that jobs have been added to the economy this year.
The Golden Isles MP said that the figures represent the unemployment situation several months ago, adding that hundreds of jobs have been added to the economy since then.
“An example is the roughly 600 jobs that have been created in Bimini from the last measurement to the present time,” Halkitis said.
“The report states that there was growth in both the number of employed and unemployed persons.
“Therefore, jobs were created during the period November 2012 to May 2013.
“We share the optimism of those who have reentered the workforce.
“We realize that there is much work to do in the area of job creation, and we are encouraged by some positive movement in the months since the survey was conducted, and we remain committed to doing what is necessary to put more Bahamians to work.”
Minister for Grand Bahama Dr. Michael Darville also believes the numbers will improve for Grand Bahama when the next survey is taken.
“Since May of this year we have seen increased employment at the [Freeport] Container Port and the establishment of a few other businesses on the island which clearly indicates that we are in recovery mode,” he said.
While he spoke to reporters shortly before the unemployment figures became public, Prime Minister Perry Christie said he is hopeful of an economic turnaround by next year.
“Hopefully in the next calendar year, the economy will begin to shift in our favor and people will see that their patience was not in vain,” he said.
However, Free National Movement (FNM) Leader Dr. Hubert Minnis said the higher unemployment figures showcase the government’s “failure” to create the 10,000 jobs in the first year that were promised on the 2012 election trail.
FNM Leader Dr. Hubert Minnis and Minister of Labour and National Insurance Shane Gibson adopted political tones.
Minnis blamed the PLP for the “false hope” it propagated on the campaign trail.
Gibson claimed the PLP was busy fixing the economy the FNM “left in shambles”.
What is clear is that the PLP, like the FNM before it, has a monumental challenge ahead in terms of job creation.
It must balance this, along with a fragile economy, recently raised taxes and an overhaul of the tax code promised next year that many business leaders (otherwise known as those who create jobs) fear will lead to layoffs or further stagnate the economy.
With the campaign far from over and a PLP super-majority in Parliament, the governing party will have to move quickly and smartly to bring much-needed relief to Bahamians.
The announcement of a heads of agreement for development on San Salvador today will be a start, but many fear even when Baha Mar opens at the end of next year, it will not be enough.