By Philip ‘Brave’ Davis
The unemployment statistics announced by the Free National Movement (FNM) government on Friday are an insult to the intelligence of the Bahamian people.
There is absolutely no credible evidence to remotely suggest that the unemployment rate in The Bahamas has declined over the past two years, yet the Department of Statistics would have us believe that nationally unemployment is down from 14.2 percent in 2009 to 13.7 percent. For New Providence, it was claimed the unemployment rate dropped from 14 percent to 13.2 percent and for Grand Bahama – where Freeport, the nation’s second most populous city, is located – it dipped from 17.4 to 15.4 percent.
Probably anticipating that her department’s findings would be met with widespread skepticism among Bahamians who are familiar with the pain and suffering being endured by thousands of Bahamians who are out of work, Department of Statistics Director Kelsie Dorsett sought to put as positive a spin on the unemployment figures as she possibly could.
She told reporters at a press conference that two major factors that contributed to the drop in the unemployment rate were a decrease in the number of job-seekers who became discouraged and stopped looking for work and the increased number of informally employed workers. She was forced to admit, however, that if discouraged workers were included in the overall unemployment figure, the unemployment rate in The Bahamas would be 18.7 percent.
There is enough evidence to suggest that even that estimate falls far below what is really the true unemployment rate in The Bahamas. For example, since 2009, when the last unemployment labour survey was conducted, more than 15,000 students graduated from our high schools. Just this past summer, some five thousand-plus graduated and the vast majority – those whose parents could not afford to send them off to school or the tuition at the College of The Bahamas – entered the workforce, joining on the unemployment line similar numbers of their counterparts who graduated in 2009 and 2010 and who still are unable to find jobs.
Add to this the fact that over the past two years numerous workers have been layed off from jobs in the hotel industry as well as the private sector, both in New Providence and Grand Bahama, and many of them are still unemployed. Some, quite possibly, were included in the “discouraged job-seeker” category, but it is still nonetheless hard to understand how the Department of Statistics could have arrived at the figures it quoted as being representative of our unemployment rate.
The survey was said to have been conducted between April 25 and May 1 and 2,000 households were said to have been involved. Leaving aside the fact that the time frame, about one week, raises some doubt about its thoroughness, the scope of the assessment further undermines its validity. Exactly from which areas were these 2,000 households selected? How many were in Grand Bahama, considering that only statistics for New Providence and Grand Bahama were cited. Presumably, since it purports to be a national survey, other islands were included, and we’ll get more details on what the employment situation is in those islands when the full report is presented in September, as has been promised.
For the time being, however, the thousands of unemployed workers in New Providence and Grand Bahama deserve to be presented with more believable evidence that the unemployment situation in the country is not as bad as they are convinced it is and is getting worse. Indeed, the lay-offs continued only recently with a number of workers receiving “bad news” from City Market and Robin Hood in New Providence and BORCO in Freeport.
And ironically, among the “informally employed people” that the survey says contributed to the decline in the unemployment rate are self-employed cell card vendors, whose profit margin has been drastically reduced by a heartless decision made by Cable & Wireless, which has already moved many of them to the “unemployed category.”
Not to be outdone, the uncaring FNM government recently decided to further add to the unemployment roll those persons involved in the scrap metal business by banning the export of that commodity for a three-month period.
These decisions, of course, came after the Department of Statistics conducted its survey, so it is safe to assume that even if we were to reluctantly accept its findings as being “accurate,” the unemployment rate has increased since May.
This then begs the question: Why has it taken the Department of Statistics two years to update the Bahamian people on the state of unemployment in the country?
The reason could very well be that Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham, who is the Minister of Finance, and his chief financial advisor, Minister of State for Finance Zhivargo Laing, are ashamed about how their mismanagement of the country’s economy created an atmosphere that is not investor-friendly and how the visionless FNM government has failed miserably to create new jobs over the four-plus years that it has been in power this current term.