The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed more Bahamians closer to the poverty line, according to data in a just-released survey conducted by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), which showed that nearly 50 percent of households reported having income below minimum wage at the time of the survey in April.
The report, entitled “COVID-19: The Caribbean Crisis: Results from an Online Socioeconomic Survey”, shows that of the 910 residents from throughout the country that responded to the online survey, 72.5 percent said they experienced lost income.
In January this year, 16.1 percent of households reported earning incomes below minimum wage. That number increased to 47.6 of households earning below minimum wage in April.
“The crisis affected all sources of income and all income levels, but not in the same magnitude. Households that reported earnings below the minimum wage in January 2020 were more severely impacted, particularly from employment loss (80.6 percent), compared to middle- and high-income households (50.2 percent and 35.1 percent, respectively),” the IDB survey reveals.
“Working remotely was more prevalent amongst high-income households (54.2 percent) compared to low- and middle-income counterparts (about 35 percent). The employment shock was also unequal across genders, as 58.5 percent of women declared losing their jobs compared to 39.1 percent of men.”
The primary factors that contributed to income loss were business closures, either due to the authorities’ requirement or due to lack of demand, which represented 50.8 percent of cases; employment loss, with 50.2 percent of households reporting at least one person losing employment; and loss of rental income, with 18.4 percent of households declaring that they had stopped receiving payments for renting real estate or vehicles.
However, 75.1 percent of households that experienced job loss said they had a commitment from their employer to be rehired after the crisis.
The survey was conducted between April 16 to 30, and the IDB noted that conditions for Bahamian households may have improved or worsened since then.
The mean age of those who participated in the survey was 43 and the mean household size was four people. Forty-two percent of responders were women and 58 percent were men.
The report found that to survive, 22.2 percent of Bahamian households requested some type of loan, transfer or remittance from family members and friends, while 46.3 percent of low-income households benefited from social programs implemented in response to the pandemic.
“The incidence (of loan requests) was higher in low-income households: 37.7 percent of households earning less than the minimum wage requested a loan compared to 13.3 percent of households earning more than four times the minimum wage. Financial support from employers to cover household expenses was slightly higher for middle-income households (27.6 percent) than for low- and high-income households (23.3 percent and 22.7 percent, respectively),” the IDB survey states.
“Three types of social programs that are part of the government’s economic support package were included in the survey: monthly food assistance vouchers, unemployment insurance administered through the National Insurance Board and meal vouchers for students who depend on school meals. The figure below indicates how social program coverage has significantly increased. Although some high-income households are beneficiaries of pre-existing and newly developed social programs, the programs within the economic support package seem to have improved targeting to low- and middle-income households.”
In addition to financial woes, the survey found that the COVID-19 pandemic also negatively impacted Bahamians’ quality of life, particularly that of women, with 68.2 percent of women reporting being responsible for caring for adults aged 60 years and older.
“The distribution of domestic chores has been significantly disproportionate… Women bore a significantly higher burden of domestic chores since the restrictions were implemented in mid-March,” the IDB states.
“In addition to this, 11.3 percent indicated an increase in domestic violence within their household since the beginning of the pandemic, with a higher prevalence in high-income households (13.9 percent) compared to low- and middle-income households (10.3 percent and 10.1 percent respectively).”
This also impacted the availability of healthy food options for Bahamians, with 49.1 percent of households reporting that they were eating less healthy meals than usual, and 5.5 percent went to bed hungry.
As for the preparedness of households before the onset of the pandemic, only 37.9 percent of households indicated that they had enough savings to cover an unexpected expense.
“Households that reported higher total household income in January 2020 were more prepared to cover immediate expenses. Only 1.9 percent of low-income households (those earning below the minimum wage) reported having enough savings for an emergency expense, whilst 29.9 percent reported having enough savings to cover one week or more of basic expenses,” the report notes.
“Comparatively, 92.8 percent of households earning 11 times or more the minimum wage reported having enough savings to cover an emergency expense, and 94.4 percent reported having enough savings to cover one week or more of basic expenses.”
The survey was also conducted in five other Caribbean countries: Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Suriname and Jamaica.
The IDB stated that the combination of the halt in tourism arrivals, the fall in international oil prices and a widespread rollout of curfews triggered a severe and unprecedented crisis in the region.