Numbers are no comfort to struggling Bahamians,
Youth unemployment stubbornly high at 20%,
Unemployment among women impacting homes,
Decrease in private sector employment gain from 3.8% to 1.8%,
Data shows slowing overall employment growth year-over-year.
The Democratic National Alliance (DNA) acknowledges the labour force survey results recently released by the Department of Statistics. The results come at a time when the government is desperate for some positive news to distract us from the national crisis that continues to inflict much suffering on residents due to massive load shedding by Bahamas Power & Light, conflicts of interest scandals and the obvious leadership deficit in government.
The May 2019 Labour Force Survey results would have been encouraging if the struggles of the average Bahamian do not paint a totally different picture from the numbers being touted by the government. The reality is that the 60% increase in the regressive Value Added Tax (VAT) rate continues to take a toll on Bahamian families and businesses. The announced decrease in the unemployment rate in Grand Bahama from 11.9% to 10.9% will have many residents on the island baffled following the number of lay offs during 2019 and the lack of credible investments since 2017. This statistic should also be weighed in the context that there has been migration of Grand Bahamians to New Providence and other surrounding islands.
It is common knowledge that since the survey was conducted, several businesses have closed and/or laid off workers in New Providence, Grand Bahama and other islands. The report shows that the number of self-employed persons which increased by 11.9% to 32,475 as at November 2018, remained the same at 32,475 in May 2019. It is unclear whether there was no new self-employed person between November 2018 and March 2019 or there were as much exits as there were entries into this category. The reality is that several persons are forced to become self-employed due to their inability to find gainful employment.
The DNA supports entrepreneurship and innovation among the populace, and we are concerned by the major impediments to the ease of doing business in The Bahamas. Regrettably, these obstacles remain under an administration that has done little in this regard since assuming office. As a result, several self-employed persons will struggle to survive in the current economic environment. It is noteworthy that the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers’ Confederation (BCCEC) just a few years ago, had estimated that the failure rate for Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (SMEs) stood at 70%. This statistic does not bode well for this vital sector and the real unemployment rate as well as under-employment rate in The Bahamas.
On a year-over-year basis, employment grew by 3.2% or 6,635 in May 2019; a decrease from the 3.4% or 6,830 in November 2018. Additionally, private sector employees grew by only 1.8% to 137,605 in May 2019; a fall from the 3.8% increase to 135,135 private sector employees reported in November 2018. This suggests that the private sector is not creating enough jobs at the necessary pace to absorb new entrants into the labour force despite the record tourism numbers. The labour participation rate also fell from 83.1% in November 2018 to 82.9% in May 2019. Deliberate policies aimed at reducing the percentage of employed individuals in vulnerable employment are long overdue.
According to statistics, majority of homes are headed by women in The Bahamas. However, the survey results show that unemployment remains higher among women (9.9%) when compared to men (9.2%) despite the higher education attainment of the former. The statistics are worse for young women with an unemployment rate of 20.7% when compared to 19.5% for young men. This statistic impacts the standard of living in many homes and should be addressed with economic empowerment programs for women.
Youth unemployment remains stubbornly high at 20% within our nation and it is disheartening that this demographic is continuously dealt the bad end of the stick. Successive administrations have ignored the young people of our country and by their actions put the future of our nation in a precarious position. A DNA government will change this with intentional programs designed to unleash the true potential of the brilliant and innovative Bahamian youth.
The government had lauded the employment of 1,600 job seekers through the Government's Labour on the Blocks job fairs. Unfortunately, this initiative has provided more temporary than permanent jobs for Bahamians according to recent pronouncements by the Director of Labour. The Director had noted that the Government’s efforts to track individuals hired under this initiative had revealed that many of these persons had been let go. Abaco which was not a part of the labor initiative saw its unemployment rate increase from 7.7% in November 2018 to 9.3% in May 2018.
Bahamians have seen a significant reduction in their purchasing power while their wages remained stagnant. This perilous situation is worsened by the high cost of energy and unreliable power supply under a BPL Board and Minister that have been colossal failures. Parents and guardians of students that are financially challenged to prepare for the upcoming school year are not impressed by these numbers. The struggle for them is real and not appreciated by a government whose proverbial head is buried in the sand.
We implore the government again to devise and communicate an economic growth plan rather than implementing ad-hoc policies and hoping that the economy improves.
Arinthia S. Komolafe
Democratic National Alliance