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70% drop in unemployment claims

The number of people applying for unemployment benefit dropped by about 70 percent last month, according to Labour Minister Dion Foulkes, who said that, among other factors, is evidence that the economy is rebounding, and less people are being laid off.

According to statistics from the unemployment benefits program, for the most part the number of applicants has been steadily declining since the program was introduced in April 2009.

The number of applicants dropped from 211 in November 2010 to 149 in December 2010-accounting for a 70 percent decline.

The number of unemployed persons rose dramatically since 2008 with the economic downturn. As a result of mass layoffs the government introduced the benefit program, which assists unemployed persons for up to 13 weeks.

When the program was initially started in April 5,010 claims were awarded to unemployed Bahamians-which included people who had been jobless for years. By September, the number of new applicants had been reduced to 1,144. The number of applicants fluctuated between 900 to 300 from October 2009 to October 2010.

Up to January 4, the National Insurance Board(NIB)paid out a total of$29,195,269 to unemployed people across the country. A total of 19,738 claims were awarded up to that time. The average weekly benefit is$135.

Minister Foulkes said while there are still some layoffs occurring, others are being hired.

Last month Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham laid out several reasons why the government has reason to believe the worst of the economic downturn is over.

Among other factors the amount of foreign direct investment over the next few years is expected to give the struggling economy a much needed boost.

“Now there are distinct signs that the worst is over and that the tide is beginning to turn,”the prime minister said last month.”For example, that critical barometer of economic well being, foreign direct investment, appears to have reversed its downward slide as the first six-month period in 2010 has posted an increase of 3.5 percent over the corresponding period in 2009.”

According to the prime minister, foreign direct investment has been identified for the next four years, and domestic investment spending has been identified for the next three years, as the result of a number of projects.

“Together these projects have the potential of unleashing the kind of dynamism within our economy that can bring unemployment to a low level, and create the economic platform which will enable us to pursue advances in education, health and social and business development, and systemic efficiencies that would substantially progress our broad national development,”the prime minister said.

Other positive signs of an economic recovery include an improvement in the tourist arrivals numbers and a reduced rate of increase in non-performing loans, Ingraham said.

The prime minister added that there are still risk factors which could threaten the Bahamian economy.

“There are threats posed by the continued economic sluggishness in Europe,”the prime minister said.”National debt issues continue to threaten several European countries with the potential of destabilizing the Eurozone and derailing the U.S. recovery.”

The risks should not”immobilize”the country from being ready to take advantage of any opportunities that become available, according to Ingraham.

“It seems to us now that a major opportunity is emerging,”the prime minister said.

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