Wednesday, Oct 23, 2019
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The complexity of Bahamian unemployment

We have a chronically high unemployment rate.

It’s the legacy of the financial crisis and Great Recession of a decade ago. The last unemployment number we received in 2008 as the crash was happening measured our jobless figure at 8.7 percent. In May 2009 that number was 14.2 percent.

Since then we’ve had double-digit unemployment rates recorded in our bi-annual jobless reports. The only time we kind of went under was May 2017 when the unemployment rate was 9.9 percent – which really is 10 percent when rounded up.

In the data released on Monday by the Department of Statistics, the unemployment rate increased from 10 percent to 10.7 percent from May to November 2018. This occurred despite positive signs.

In its December visit and report, the International Monetary Fund projected we hit 2.3 percent GDP growth last year, and that there will be 2.1 percent growth this year.

Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis spoke at the Bahamas Business Outlook on Thursday. He noted that since mid-2017, his government approved $3.7 billion in foreign investments.

Last year there was a significant increase in stopover arrivals, too. Through September, arrivals by air were up 16.5 percent. Strong growth in the United States and Canada fueled the uptick.

What is obvious is more robust growth is needed to drive the jobless rate down significantly. But we wonder if something else is not at play, too.

We are an uneducated people. The national D average – in an easy exam – is only pulled up to that by the performance of the private schools. Our public education system, where the majority are “educated”, is a mess where failure, illiteracy and innumeracy are the norm.

Added to that is our crime problem. High crime rates the past decade have been much discussed. There were five murder records between 2007 and 2017.

Our boys drop out of school and get mixed up with drugs, gangs and violence. Who doesn’t end up dead has been to jail.

We wonder if a significant number of the chronically unemployed fall into the “unemployable” category – that is, they are some mix of being illiterate, innumerate, without skills or possessing criminal records. No one wants to hire them.

We hear from employers repeatedly that searching for competent staff in the modern Bahamas is a nightmare. Rather than bother with the bad batch out there, many prefer to pay existing employees overtime or additional salary to work beyond their hours or job descriptions.

The Department of Statistics should do deep study of the unemployed. Policymakers and businesses need more information on who these people are and what problems they face.

If it is that many are unemployable, we’d know even more resources need to be applied to retraining, adult literacy and numeracy programs, and second-chance initiatives for ex-offenders. We’d know that normal economic growth alone would not improve their circumstance.

An unemployment rate at or above 10 percent is very high. We’ve had one for so long that we may not realize how abnormal that is.

In its November analysis on the dangers of a no-deal Brexit, the Bank of England warned the British people that the country’s unemployment rate could go from 4.1 percent to 7.5 percent. That was part of the doomsday scenario.

If only we were so lucky to be back at 7.5 percent.

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