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A deeper dive

The results of the Labour Force Survey released by the Department of Statistics this week demonstrate ongoing worries about the state of joblessness in The Bahamas, notwithstanding the government’s declaration that millions of dollars in investments have been approved in the last 20 months.

Although the International Monetary Fund (IMF) projected 2.3 percent growth for the Bahamian economy in 2018, the economy is just not growing fast enough to keep pace with the demand for jobs.

At 2.1 percent, GDP growth is projected to be even less this year.

Employment increased by 2,305, from May 2018 to November 2018.

Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis is, of course, optimistic.

He told the annual Bahamas Business Outlook forum last week that his government has approved an estimated $3.7 billion of foreign investment projects across the country since coming to office.     Many are not yet feeling the impact, however.

The jobs survey revealed that unemployment climbed from 10 percent in May 2018 to 10.7 percent in November 2018. The government responded by noting this was a “small” increase in unemployment.

It also focused on the fact that unemployment in Grand Bahama decreased from 12.4 percent in May to 11.9 percent in November. In Abaco, the unemployment rate dropped from 10.7 percent in May to 7.7 percent in November.

The unemployment rate in New Providence — the largest population center — climbed from 10.1 percent in May to 11 percent in November.

The government noted that the number of discouraged workers decreased, “pointing to greater confidence in economic prospects among job seekers”.

The Department of Statistics reported that, in the six months to November, the number of discouraged workers fell by 9.1 percent in New Providence and 9.8 percent in Grand Bahama.

It increased by 7.9 percent in Abaco.

Discouraged workers are not counted among the unemployed. They represent the group of workers that has stopped looking for work because they believe there are no jobs available.

Not surprisingly, there is a tendency in government to highlight the positives and downplay the negatives when these kinds of reports are released.

We are oftentimes subjected to spin.

Sometimes politicians even go as far as questioning how the surveys are conducted.

In 2011, then Director of the Department of Statistics Kelsie Dorsett observed that both the PLP and the FNM too often used the statistics to gain political points.

“Both the Free National Movement (FNM) and the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) have short-term memories when it comes to how the process works,” Dorsett told us at the time.

While the FNM government now highlights the decline in discouraged workers as an indication of greater confidence in the economy, in opposition, repeated reports of a decline in the number of discouraged workers were not worth noting.

During the entire five years of the most recent Christie administration, discouraged workers declined every time the survey was taken.

The most recent survey, in fact, recorded more discouraged workers in November 2018 than when the Christie administration left office in May 2017. There were 1,925 discouraged workers in April 2017 and 2,030 in November 2018.

But the total labor force recorded in November 2018 was 235,695, compared to 222,035 in May 2017.

There were 21,880 people recorded as unemployed in May 2017. In November 2018, there were 25,135 people unemployed.

Unemployment among young people remains a significant concern.

In February 2017, several weeks before the general election, Minnis noted that unemployment among youth, ages 15 to 24, was a “staggering” 25 percent.

“This is more than an economic crisis,” he said.

“This is a moral crisis. It is a personal and family crisis for thousands of Bahamians.”

The situation has not improved significantly, but the most recent survey recorded youth unemployment at 23.1 percent.

Eyeing growth

Responding to the latest numbers, Peter Turnquest, the deputy prime minister and minister of finance, said the government is focused on economic growth.

“…Our target is a level of growth that will reduce unemployment in a sustained way and will be felt evenly across the country, so the work must continue and intensify,” he said.

“Our focus is on strengthening and expanding efforts to boost job growth, directly and indirectly, by investing in entrepreneurship, particularly for young Bahamians, as well as human resource development and other ways to stimulate growth in the private sector.”

At that Business Outlook event, the prime minister said that, throughout 2018, we saw the completion of a number of foreign direct investment projects. He said these projects contributed to growth in terms of employment, airlift and consumption

“By example, we saw the completion of the final phase of the Baha Mar development, which featured the opening of the Rosewood hotel and its restaurant in May,” Minnis said.

“The Pointe development officially opened their entertainment complex in October. These developments contributed positively to employment and consumption within the domestic economy.”

Interestingly, both projects are spearheaded by the PLP’s “Chinese allies”, as Minnis called them when he was in opposition.

In his statement on unemployment on July 21, 2016, when he was opposition leader, Minnis said, “Baha Mar still sits vacant, an empty hulking testament to the PLP’s many broken promises — this one being their promise of 5,000 good paying jobs.”

Around that time, he also advised Bahamians against being fooled by the Christie administration’s “false hope and fake promises” as it related to Baha Mar.

Like the Minnis administration, we are happy to see the Baha Mar success story. It has directly contributed to an uptick in economic performance and has improved our jobs situation.

Governments are continuous, so the current administration is reaping what was sown by its predecessors, who did not always get things right and who lost the confidence of the Bahamian people in dramatic fashion.

As the Minnis administration seeks to underscore the silver lining in the new jobs report, it no doubt feels the pressure to deliver stronger economic growth so job creation is able to keep pace with the ongoing expansion of the labor force.

How people feel about their government is largely shaped by their economic circumstances. Fluffing, spinning and promising have a short shelf life.

The deeper the FNM administration gets in its term, that pressure will likely build. Many people have long lost patience in waiting for things to improve.

Candia Dames

Candia Dames is the executive editor of the Nassau Guardian.

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