Poverty in The Bahamas, pt. 1
“Poverty is the worst form of violence.” — Mahatma Gandhi
I have been preoccupied with writing a two-part series on poverty in The Bahamas for quite some time. Admittedly, I considered this a daunting task, primarily for lack of current empirical data, leaving me to wonder where to begin discussing such a complex subject. A topic of this complexity is difficult to corroborate without attendant quantitative analysis to support one’s hypothesis.
The complexity of this subject is exacerbated by the fact that we are an archipelagic nation of several dozen inhabited islands, bathed by and spanning more than 100,000 square miles of water, from Florida to Cuba. This is an important consideration because any definition or discussion of poverty must consider the demographic, socioeconomic working conditions, and living habits and practices of different islands, each of which may engender a variation of a generally accepted definition of poverty.
Therefore, this week, we will Consider This … what are some factors considered in defining poverty in The Bahamas?
What is poverty?
Poverty can be defined as the chronic lack of basic human needs, including adequate nutritious food, clothing, housing, clean water, and health services.
In The Bahamas, poverty results from several factors: poor resource management, inflation, inadequate education, lack of employment opportunities, environmental degradation, and inadequate, insufficient incentives. We will discuss these factors in greater detail next week in the final installment of this series.
Some effects of poverty include malnutrition, drug dependence, infectious diseases, exposure to the elements, crime, and violence.
A survey that was conducted in The Bahamas between 2001 and 2002 determined that $7.84 was the minimum amount of money needed per day per person to maintain a low-cost diet with some allowance for other basic necessities. That survey also established a poverty line for the very first time and estimated that 9.3 percent of Bahamians and five percent of households fell below the poverty line.
It is important to properly define and understand poverty because it will help us appreciate those affected by it and could also help us decrease the poverty rate in our country. Furthermore, proffering suggestions on how to reduce poverty will inspire others to join in this important dialogue.
The poverty line
There is a fundamental problem with accurately assessing poverty in The Bahamas in 2023. The most recent comprehensively reliable data was compiled in the Household Expenditure Survey 2013 Report, produced by the Bahamas National Statistical Institute. Therefore, this data on household expenditure produced in The Bahamas is dated.
The 2013 report states, “The poverty line indicates the minimum amount of money required for households to afford a balanced, low-cost diet, to which a provision is added to meet essential non-food needs.
“For 2013, the total cost of a food basket meeting the kilocalories requirement at a minimum cost was estimated to be $3.82 per day, which implies an annual food basket of $1,394 per person.
“The estimation of the non-food component of the poverty line was done using the reported expenditure patterns of the households in the survey.
“The cost of that total poverty line for 2013, which includes allowances for the purchase of non-food necessities, was set at $11.64 per day. This translates into an annual poverty line of $4,247 per person.”
It should be noted that this figure ($11.64 per day) in the 2013 report reflects an increase in the poverty line of $3.80 over that of the 2001 report, which stood at $7.84 per day.
The 2013 report continues, “Once the poor have been identified, it is useful to include the level of poverty in a single indicator of poverty. In this report, three of the most common poverty indicators are computed: the poverty rate, the poverty gap, and the square poverty gap. While this section focuses on the proportion of people in poverty (i.e., the poverty rate), this information is not enough to understand the depth of poverty.
The poverty gap provides information on the depth of poverty by showing how far the poor are from the poverty line and allows an estimate of the total shortfall of consumption relative to the poverty line across the whole poor population. The squared poverty gap provides information about the inequality among the poor by averaging the squares of the poverty gaps relative to the poverty line.”
The measurement of poverty: Empirical results
The 2013 report further states, “The incidence of poverty at the national level is 12.5 percent. In other words, one out of eight residents were living in poverty in 2013. At the regional level, the Family Islands had the highest poverty rate: 17.2 percent of this population had a level of per capita consumption that was lower than the total poverty line.
“In New Providence, the poverty rate was almost the same (12.4 percent) as the national rate, while in Grand Bahama, the incidence of poverty was lower than in the other two regions (9.4 percent). Even though the poverty rate is higher in the Family Islands than in the other two regions, the majority of the poor (71.5 percent) are to be found on New Providence, where most of the country’s population is located.
“The statistics on poverty rates by sex, age, and nationality. Although women comprised the majority of the poor (51.8 percent), poverty rates were higher for males (13.2 percent) than for females (12.4 percent).
“People younger than 20 years were overrepresented among the poor: while their population share was 33.7 percent, almost half of the poor (49.7 percent) belong to this age group. More specifically, there were only two age groups with poverty rates that were higher than the national rate: children aged 0 to 9 (18.2 percent) and those aged 10 to 19 (19.3 percent).
“The 20 to 29-year-old group was the one with the poverty rate (13.0 percent) most similar to the national rate, while the remaining groups were underrepresented among the poor population. The 60 to 69-year-old group was the age group with the lowest poverty rate: only 6.5 percent of the people belonging to this group lived in poverty.”
We located a more recent report prepared and published in 2017 by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), which states that 14.8 percent of the Bahamian population lived below the poverty line compared to the 2013 survey, which placed that statistic at 12.5 percent.
If that figure is correct, it means that for a population of 350,000 in 2017, 51,800 Bahamians and residents were subsisting below the poverty line. By any reasonable measure, that is a harrowing statistic.
It is vitally important for these data to be updated to reflect the current state of poverty in The Bahamas.
Notwithstanding that our locally produced studies are one to two decades old, it is reasonable to assume that, given the recent scourges wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic and by Hurricane Dorian, the number has significantly increased.
It is imperative that we know exactly the size of this pernicious problem, so that we can better address it and find a solution.
Emerging from poverty
One of the most critical imperatives of any government is to provide a safety net for those who subsist below the poverty line. Successive governments have implemented programs targeted at achieving this objective.
However, the extent to which our citizens and residents just cannot manage to escape the intransigent clutches of this insidious phenomenon speaks to the urgency with which we must redouble our efforts to provide opportunities for households to move above and beyond the poverty line.
If we do not take time to fully understand the horrific conditions that poverty brings to those who live in its grip, then we will never have an understanding of the social and economic causes and effects that affect us all.
A true understanding of poverty will give us the important realization that poverty is not just the poor man’s problem. It’s a problem that impacts us all, one to which we must all pay closer attention in the interest of national well-being.
Next week, we will examine real-life human examples of poverty in The Bahamas. We will suggest how we can improve the lives of thousands by boldly and definitively addressing this debilitating social scourge.
• Philip C. Galanis is the managing partner of HLB Bahamas, Advisors and Chartered Accountants. He served 15 years in Parliament. Please send your comments to email@example.com.