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The significance of demographic trends

Over the past few days we have seen a few news items about the Department of Statistics’ pending surveys.  We believe this is a good thing.  But we wonder if the information collected from these surveys is used to inform those who plan the development of our country.

Most people generally recognize the role that demographic trends play in shaping societies, mature economies, emerging markets and the environment.

China and India, for example, have become immense economic engines in part because each has a population of more than one billion people.  An increase in the youth population has been a major factor in the recent unrest in the Middle East.  Young people are compelled to protest because they feel they deserve opportunities and a voice in society that reflects the strength of their numbers.

Europe and Japan, conversely, are known to be suffering economically because of their aging workforces.  The proportion of the population that is retired, and thus dependent on others to support them, is rapidly increasing.

In The Bahamas our population is also aging, and with that comes a stress on our national insurance program.

Some may suggest that there is nothing we can do about demographic trends, and every country must live with its demographic destiny.  We don’t think this is the case.

Political and business leaders can do a great deal if they are willing to take a precise approach to prediction.  Past and present demographic trends, as well as those expected in the near future, can help calculate socioeconomic trajectories.

In the public sector, the first step is to pinpoint a country’s development trajectory and demographic profile.  The next step is to plot the potential for social, economic and environmental progress.  Then, look for challenges and opportunities.  Finally, develop policies and actions to improve the country’s trajectory.

Companies can use a similar approach to take advantage of demographic trends in countries where they hope to find new sources of talent or potential consumers.

A proactive approach to demographics will help in planning for our country’s future.

Where will the demand for labor come from?  Is it nursing and home-care, given the aging population?  Is it the need for more resources to fight the ever-growing rate of crime?  Is it education to position our citizens to take advantage of changing economic trends?  Is it agriculture to decrease our dependency on imports?  Is it a need to change our tax structure to meet our growing needs and the needs of a fragile and open economy?

Generally, as a population ages the economy sees a boom as the aging population saves for retirement.

Regrettably in The Bahamas, our savings and retirement planning are lacking at best.  We all must admit that our national insurance program is not in a position to take care of us all on its current path, despite the fact that National Insurance is now in the best position since its formation.

Armed with the information to be collected from the soon-to-be statistic surveys, we trust that our leaders will have a better understanding of population trends and needs.  This will allow them to develop strategies attuned to the newly acquired demographic information and determine the rate at which our workforce is aging and prepare accordingly, creating a self-sustaining future, avoiding long-term insolvency and improving the quality of life for generations to come.

The strictures of demographics don’t have to be destiny.  If we don’t use demographics to better plan the development of our nation, we fully expect our country to find itself on the glide path of some of our regional counterparts.

CFAL provides investment management, research, brokerage and pension services.  For comments, please contact CFAL at: column@cfal.com.

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