Editorials

Growing pressures on the most vulnerable

A United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) report states that 14.8 percent of the Bahamian population lived below the poverty line in 2017.

Targeted initiatives aimed at poverty eradication in The Bahamas have waned in national focus.

No pervasive dynamic in a society exists in a vacuum, and it is hence essential for governments and the citizenry to recognize and appreciate how one social plank – in this case poverty – impacts key national indicators and the Bahamian way of life.

We look at many of our nation’s youngsters and we ask, “Why are they so angry?”

Households with three or more children were strong predictors of poverty in 2013 and children and teens aged 0-19 made up the largest segment of the nation’s poor – a factor that no doubt figures prominently in the household environments that contribute to antisocial behavior among the nation’s youth.

Children living in poverty are more likely to suffer from malnutrition, an important factor not only for public health but for education, as children who go to school hungry or who are otherwise not getting the nutritive caloric intake necessary for optimal brain development are at a higher risk of poor academic performance.

According to the Department of Statistics, of those in poverty who were employed, close to three-quarters worked in the private sector and 17 percent were recorded as self-employed.

No Labour Force Survey was conducted during the COVID-19 pandemic, but an S&P Global Ratings agency report released this week, estimated unemployment for this year and next would remain above pre-pandemic levels.

Job gains are likely to be concentrated in the construction sector and the full rehiring of tourism sector employees, the bank said.

As it relates to prices, inflation is forecasted to stay elevated, underpinned by the rise in international oil prices, higher costs for other imported goods and supply chain shortages, associated with geopolitical tensions in Eastern Europe.

When we evaluate what some might consider to be intransigence in regards to the country’s productivity levels, it should be noteworthy to factor in how stress levels and the impact on the health of the nation’s working poor contribute to unsatisfactory levels of productivity.

Minimum wage workers bemoan the pressures of work, family and expenses that outstrip their income, but even they are taking home more than twice the income of the tens of thousands below the poverty line.

Specific household dynamics in The Bahamas have also been found to be strong predictors of poverty.

The percentage of the country’s poor households was higher where the head of household was in a common law relationship or had never been married.

Conversely, the percentage of poverty was lower than the national average for households where the household head was married, followed by those who were divorced/separated or widowed.

One of the most potent strategies in eradicating poverty is education.

As in most countries, there is a negative relationship in The Bahamas between educational level and the risk of poverty.

This is why the pandemic’s negative impacts on the education system are particularly worrying as poorer households are most at risk.

The percentage of those living in poverty in 2013 was lowest for households where the head had either a technical, vocational or college education, and that percentage increased nearly twelve-fold for households where the level of education of the head was a high school education or less.

In this regard, programs by the government to make enrollment at the University of The Bahamas and The Bahamas Technical and Vocational Institute more accessible for Bahamians can be recognized as a positive step in providing opportunities for households to move above the poverty line and beyond.

Two years before the initial introduction of value-added tax (VAT), the total amount of money required annually to lift all poor people up to the poverty line was set at approximately $46.3 million. That figure is no doubt significantly higher today.

The social price of tens of thousands living below that line is incalculable.

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