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The hope index

For the first time since the labor force survey was taken in April 2011, the number of discouraged workers actually increased in October–November 2017, when the most recent survey was taken.

This means there was an increase in the number of people who gave up looking for work because they believed there were no jobs available, when compared to those in this category in April 2017.

During the entire five years of the most recent Christie administration, discouraged workers declined every time the survey was taken, but it is important to note that the number of discouraged workers in the recent survey (2,035) is still substantially fewer than the number of discouraged workers during the times the survey was taken under the previous government.

There were 11,900 discouraged workers in April 2011.

That number was on a steady decline over the next several years, falling to 1,925 in April 2017.

Still, the fact that the number of discouraged workers declined from survey to survey between 2012 and 2017 demonstrates that, notwithstanding a general disgust toward the Progressive Liberal Party — as demonstrated at the polls nearly nine months ago, there was declining hopelessness amongst the Bahamian workforce.

Whether the unemployment rate was up or down, the discouraged worker barometer was headed in the right direction under the former administration. A declining number of people had given up looking for work.

In April 2017, discouraged workers declined nationally by 8.8 percent over the previous October.

In April 2016, discouraged workers declined by 10 percent, from 2,750 in November 2015 to 2,470.

In April 2015, discouraged workers declined 13 percent, from 4,560 workers in November 2014, to 3,950.

In April 2014, the number of discouraged workers fell by 12.4 percent on New Providence (from 3,335 to 2,920) and dropped from 1,915 to 760 on Grand Bahama.

There was a 33 percent decline in discouraged workers in April 2013 and a three percent decline in April 2012.

Admittedly, the 2,035 discouraged workers in the latest report is a small percentage of the overall labor force of 226,680, and it is only a slight increase over the 1,925 in the April 2017 survey, but it is still noteworthy that the number of discouraged workers is up for the first time in years.

In its new report, the Department of Statistics said, “Discouraged workers in the country increased by 5.7 percent over the six-month period.

“New Providence and Grand Bahama experienced increases in the number of discouraged workers — 2.9 percent and 8.1 percent, respectively.

“However, discouraged workers in Abaco declined by 9.7 percent.”

Under International Labour Organization (ILO) standards, they are not counted in the unemployment number.

Of the 2,035 discouraged workers nationally, 890 were men and 1,145 were women; 1,400 had worked before and 635 had never worked.

Of that number, 1,235 discouraged workers were on New Providence; 200 on Grand Bahama and 185 on Abaco.

The department reported a marginal growth in unemployment from 9.9 percent in April to 10.1 percent in October 2017.

At the time of the survey, the rate of unemployment on New Providence was 10.6 percent, and on Abaco it was 8.6 percent.

Grand Bahama’s unemployment rate declined slightly from 12.4 percent in May to 12.1 percent.

Optimism?

When he responded to the latest labor force survey results on Friday, Minister of Labour Dion Foulkes did not focus on the fact that there are more discouraged workers.

As politicians do, he squeezed what he could from the results, enough to paint a positive picture.

“We are optimistic that, in spite of the small increase in unemployment as of November of last year, the new jobs at Baha Mar and other business houses on New Providence will have a major positive impact on the number of Bahamians who will be employed this year,” Foulkes said.

It is interesting to see how FNM politicians now focus on Baha Mar as a major generator of jobs, after failing to participate in its “fake” opening last April.

FNM Leader Dr. Hubert Minnis, the now prime minister, had pledged to execute a “real sale” of the property, even after Chow Tai Fook Enterprises (CTFE) was announced as the new owner.

But governing is tough. It is not a time to do foolishness, to risk the country’s economic health or to play politics.

When it is fully open in April, Baha Mar expects to have around 5,000 jobs filled.

Minnis pointed to the Baha Mar development when he spoke of prospects for an economic boost during his national address on Monday night.

He encouraged Bahamians to be hopeful about The Bahamas’ economic future.

“Our economic recovery has a long way to go,” Minnis said.

“Many Bahamians are still struggling. Unemployment remains too high. But despite the long road ahead, recovery has begun, and there are positive prospects on the horizon. We are making progress.”

Minnis said the government’s major economic priorities are job creation, opportunities for entrepreneurship, business development and promoting the ease of doing business in order to boost investment and improve productivity.

Speaking specifically of the deeply troubled Grand Bahama economy, Minnis said while the transaction for the private acquisition and management of the Grand Lucayan assets, including the hotels, the golf courses and the casino, are “far from complete”, it would not be an exaggeration to say that the government will have accomplished in a few months what was not done in a decade.

“This year, we intend to complete the sale of the Grand Lucayan and Memories property,” he said.

“After they are reopened, the economy of Grand Bahama will improve significantly, including with a tremendous increase in employment and related business and economic opportunities.”

He also outlined a $2.5 billion, 10-year deal to purchase and develop the former Ginn Sur Mer property on Grand Bahama.   

This certainly is a positive announcement for Grand Bahama, which is in urgent need of relief.

It should provide hope for some in desperate need of it.

The government, nor the people of The Bahamas, can afford for discouraged workers or the unemployment rate to continue to climb.

The next survey should take place around the first anniversary of the Minnis administration’s term in office.

It should provide a good idea of how successful the government has been in job creation and in energizing the national economy, which barely recorded any growth for all of the PLP’s most recent term in office.

Getting the economy going is an urgent matter.

The true test of this government’s achievements will not be measured by its announcements. It will be measured by what the Bahamian people can feel and see.

Optimism is a good thing.

Results are even better.

Candia Dames is the executive editor of the Nassau Guardian.
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