- The latest report of the Economic and Social Survey of Jamaica, shows that poverty has increased in Jamaica.
- Compared to our Caricom partners, Jamaica ranks in the bottom quintile in terms of our Gross National Income per Capita.
- This shows a general deterioration in quality of life for the average person.
The latest report of the Economic and Social Survey of Jamaica, shows that poverty has increased in Jamaica. Compared to our Caricom partners, Jamaica ranks in the bottom quintile in terms of our Gross National Income per Capita. Even more disturbing, is Jamaica’s persistent fall in the Human Development Index over the last 4 years. This shows a general deterioration in quality of life for the average person.
Regardless of the picture being painted following the passage of IMF tests that all is well, it is clear that more Jamaicans are now absolutely poorer and below the poverty line. What we can buy with our income has rapidly declined in the last four years. As you have seen, our basket of goods is getting smaller and our purchasing power is decreasing. Frozen wages, a devalued dollar, and increasing unemployment mean that more and more Jamaicans will not be able to afford the absolute basic necessities of life. According to World Bank statistics, 20 % of Jamaicans are living below the poverty line.
Poverty is not just limited to a segment of the population or society. The conditions of poverty do not only affect the poor – it affects everyone. The notion of the working poor underscores this point, and even persons who own assets, such as land and housing are sometimes unable to convert these into income earning assets.
Consider the farmer who owns land but cannot get the maximum production from his holdings due to lack of water, bad roads and no proper marketing system. This for example is the situation in St. Elizabeth.
Or consider the home-owner in the inner-city: they have an asset in real estate, however they are unable to use the asset as security for a loan or a mortgage to fix-up the house for rental or even start a business, as lending institutions tend to shy away from these areas due to crime and general social and infrastructural decay.
How do we deal with poverty? One asset that everyone has is their labour. Therefore a strategy to move Jamaica from poverty to prosperity must be to empower labour. Indeed, this has been the struggle of the labour movement since 1938. There is no doubt that the improvement of working condition, regulations, and labour market reforms since then have had a positive impact on poverty reduction over the past 50 years.
The next phase of empowerment of the Labour asset in our struggle to move Jamaica from poverty to prosperity must rely heavily on education, technology, and our natural creativity to improve productivity and competitiveness in an ever changing global economy. Today’s economy requires a highly skilled labour force that assimilates technology and innovates for efficiency. Today’s economy is heavily based on knowledge.
The worker must be educated but also creative. Pairing education with creativity is the basis on which new products and ideas are developed and is the pathway to growth and development.
To move from poverty to prosperity we must ensure that all students leaving the education system are certified in a skill and attain the basic functional educational level. 70% of our Labour Force is without any formal training, and 11% of the Labour Force has formal skills training. We are committed to changing this. We will implement a compulsory education policy where all Jamaicans between age 3 and 18 must be in school. We will also put in place a comprehensive system of apprenticeship and work study which will provide practical training and exposure to industry standards. We will also implement a Programme of National Service for our young people. Through voluntary service we will develop a positive culture of work among our youth.
We will also expand the number of workforce colleges through the HEART/NTA to provide on-the-job training and human resource development to persons already employed.
This Labour Day, as we volunteer our labour in support of our communities, let us consider the bigger picture of the value of our labour in ending poverty in Jamaica. Parents, the greatest contribution you can make in this regard is to ensure that your children get a well-rounded education, with knowledge, skills and the right attitude towards work. To the young people, I encourage you to stay in school, and choose your areas of study wisely. Science, technology, engineering, mathematics and the creative arts are replacing traditional careers. What you study, your knowledge, skills and attitude will actually determine how effectively your education is able to move you from poverty to prosperity.
In closing, let us recognize that poverty affects everyone. Our greatest asset is our people – our labour. We know that there is no educated country that is poor. We must commit to empowering our labour through knowledge, skills and the right attitude to work. It is through the enterprise, industry, creativity and productivity of our labour that we will move Jamaica from poverty to prosperity.
I wish for you all a productive Labour Day.
May God bless you, and may He continue to bless Jamaica, land we love.