Submitted by Dr. George C. Brathwaite
It is staggering when the current Democratic Labour Party (DLP) administration comes across as being boastful against data suggesting that job growth in Barbados reached a point of satisfaction in which the unemployment rate supposedly dipped to 9.3 in the first three months – January to March – of 2016. According to data produced by the Barbados Statistical Service, the unemployment rate among males stood at 8.7 per cent and 10.0 per cent among females. Furthermore, the number of persons employed totalled 131 300.
This writer is concerned that the size of the workforce during this period is significantly lower than it was in 2008; yet, the DLP takes comfort in repeatedly honing in on an alleged decrease in the unemployment rate. The Barbados Economic & Social Report for 2008 indicates that the annual rate of unemployment for that year was “8.1 per cent, representing a 0.7 percentage point increase over the 7.4 per cent, which was recorded in 2007. … There was only a marginal increase in the labour force during 2008 which grew by approximately 100 individuals to record a labour force of 143,800 persons. The composition of the labour force at the end of 2008 was 73,700 males and 70,100 females. The total employed labour force in 2008 was 132,100 persons, comprising 68,700 males and 63,400 females.”
For countries like Barbados and in today’s world, it is very important that job creation and employment opportunities exist since the likelihood of more persons actively working is conducive to economic growth and enhancing national productivity. Indeed, the most recent IMF Article IV Consultation Report contends that “a comprehensive growth strategy is needed to lift” Barbados’ long‑term competitiveness in the key tourism sectors, together with setting “priorities for raising growth” which would “include timely implementation of tourism investment and infrastructure projects, improving public service efficiency and streamlining business regulation, increasing labor market flexibility, and unlocking agriculture’s growth potential.” Being identified here are too many key areas with potential in an economy that has been underperforming over the past eight years, and has been described as being stagnant and struggling to the point of reaching crisis proportions.
The Social and Economic Reports for 2013, 2014, and 2015 highlight the following information which at best can be described as unflattering for those potential workers wanting to enter the labour market and make some earned money so that they could feed their families and clothe their children. Considering that thousands of persons have been pushed, for one reason or another from the workforce, has to be a huge frustration to hear of unemployment lows when the suffering is high.
The multiple reports state that: At the end of 2013, there were 126,200 employed persons in Barbados. This was an increase of 900 persons when compared with the previous year, when 125,300 persons were recorded. … The unemployment rate remained at 11.6 per cent, consistent with 2012. The total labour force was estimated to be 142,900 persons, an increase of approximately 1,200 persons when compared with 2012. The composition of the labour force at the end of 2013 was 72,900 males and 70,000 females.
At the end of 2014, there were 124,800 employed persons in Barbados. This was a decrease of 6,600 persons when compared with the previous year, when 131,400 persons were recorded. … The unemployment rate stood at 12.8 per cent, an increase of 1.3 percentage points when compared with the same period 2013. …The unemployment rate rose to 12.3 per cent, up from 11.6 per cent at the end of 2013. … The total labour force was estimated to be 142,300 persons, a decline of approximately 6,400 persons when compared with 2013. The composition of the labour force at the end of 2014 was 72,000 males and 70,300 females.
At the end of 2015, there were 128,200 employed persons in Barbados. This was an increase of 3,400 persons when compared with the previous year, when 124,800 persons were recorded. … The unemployment rate fell to 11.3 per cent, down from 12.3 per cent at the end of 2014. … The total labour force was estimated to be 144,600 persons, an increase of approximately 2,300 persons when compared with 2014. The composition of the labour force at the end of 2015 was 72,900 males and 71,700 females.
Do not let the numbers fool or confuse us! Do not allow the political rhetoric coming from the mouths of Democratic Labour Party Ministers to convince us that the troubled Cabinet of Prime Minister Stuart is performing anywhere near optimal levels. Like the Barbados economy, the DLP Cabinet Ministers have flattered to deceive, while Barbadians continue to suffer the indignity of having to rely on seasonal employment, underemployment, and ‘brekking the odd job’ in the informal sectors of the economy.
All of the figures presented here clearly show that by the end of March 2016, the employed population in Barbados was smaller than it was in 2008 (i.e. 131, 300 in 2016 compared with 143, 800 in 2008). Unbelievable, considering the idle boasts of the DEMS. The incredulity of the data was aptly discussed in a July 8, 2016 Nation News Paper Editorial titled ‘Out of work, or unemployed?’ There was a relevant claim made suggesting that: “We would have to join all those who are more than a little curious about these latest statistics in asking for a detailed explanation on how they are compiled. We accept that there is science in statistics, but for ordinary citizens who live in the real world, the anecdotal evidence all around does not square with these numbers.”
Nevertheless, there must be growing concerns about the state of the economy in light of budget measures which include increased taxation and that would likely dampen some potential for employment growth. Where are the incentives for job creation in Barbados? Do the opportunities rest in projects such as the Hyatt which is said to begin work in September, even without the necessary approvals in place and properly detailed and communicated to the many stakeholders in Barbados? Will the opportunities emerge in the duty free zones for which the country still knows very little, if anything at all, on how these will work?
Why is it that the Minister of Labour can recognise the troubling effects of high youth unemployment, but Barbados is continuing to make macroeconomic plans without special provision for seeing these young people being captured in the proposals? Is the Finance Minister throwing already cracked eggs into a construction basket in which his credibility and the promise of projects have seldom reaped any synchronisation? Job number one for the next year has to be about jobs for our young people. Approaching 50 years of independence, significant job creation is the least that the DLP can do for good of nation.
(Dr. George C. Brathwaite is a researcher and political consultant, and up until recently, he was editor of Caribbean Times (Antigua). Email: email@example.com )