Tackling poverty

Mahatma Gandhi once said “poverty is the worst form of violence” and Aristotle posited that “poverty is the parent of revolution and crime”.

Yesterday, this newspaper featured analysis on the current financial challenges faced by Bahamians, and referenced the nation’s poverty levels at last report.

It is perhaps difficult to fathom that six years ago, 43,000 people in The Bahamas were living in poverty (on less than $354 per month), with over three quarters of the country’s poor being Bahamian.

Targeted initiatives aimed at poverty eradication in The Bahamas have waned in national focus, save for increases in social assistance allocations prompted in recent years by increases in taxation that had the anticipated effect of pushing growing numbers of Bahamians into financial vulnerability.

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.

At last report by 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.

In that year the nation charted a staggering unemployment rate of 16.8 percent, with the unemployment rate for the nation’s poor charting just over a point below the national average.

When we evaluate what some might consider to be intransigence in the country’s productivity levels, it should be noteworthy to factor in how stress levels and its 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 annual poverty line of tens of thousands.

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.

The percentage of those living in poverty 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, recent 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.

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


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