Column: No jobs, no growth produce widespread despair
If the saying 'hope springs eternal' has any truth to it, the hearts and minds of the young are the most fertile ground for this springing to happen.
According to two recent studies, the result of which were published in January and February this year, more than 40 per cent of Jamaicans would give up their passport for economic reasons, primarily reasonable paying and sustained employment.
Other earlier reports suggest that as many as 85 per cent of Jamaican university graduates - our young intelligentsia - migrate to other countries because there is such a dearth of economic and employment opportunities in Jamaica.
All these reports and statistics are heart rending. A report in The Gleaner this past Sunday, Easter Sunday - a day of hope and a promise of the resurrection of dashed hopes - was a deep and lasting heartbreaker. The newspaper's headline for the article said it all: 'Hope Fades: Disillusioned young Jamaicans giving up on life'.
Erica Virtue made it clear in her Sunday Gleaner article that many young Jamaicans are at the point of despair. She refers to a comment from a seasoned activist. "Corporate Area community activist Joy 'Sharon' Matthews says young people in her inner-city community of Lyndhurst/Greenwich in Trench Town and the nearby Maxfield Avenue area see their future tied to the prospects for employment and housing, neither of which they believe they will attain".
Many of us in Jamaica have developed the myopic approach of believing that poverty resides only in certain geographies - inner-city and backward rural communities. In many of our minds these localities house a certain class of people who perpetrate the practice of serial pregnancies for a slew of different baby fathers.
Regrettably, many of our politicians subscribe to this view and do very little to change this part of our poverty reality.
While Joy speaks with an informed voice and painful passion about the despairing young in her inner-city communities, many of our leaders and us need to wake up to the fact that despair is no longer limited to the unemployed young in poor parts of our city.
The well-educated and unemployed youth from exclusive uptown addresses have contracted the virus of despair. The despair virus is transported by a resilient dispersal vector known as unemployment. Dispersal vectors carry viruses across species.
The absence of robust growth in the economy has created a serious no-work vacuum which unemployment and despair have rushed in to fill.
Like an effective virus, unemployment is not limited by geographic and social barriers - especially in our Jamaican circumstances where economic activity is so muted and growth is so relentlessly slow in arriving. Neither is despair limiting its hosts to young Jamaicans from certain deprived addresses and near-non-existent family structures.
CURSE OF UNEMPLOYMENT
Despair is spreading fast among 'up-town' young people, and to categories of many older folks as well. They all cannot find jobs. They have looked so long and hard that they have despaired from looking.
Most are in serious financial difficulties and have maxed-out their credit cards and similar facilities. The vast majority are realising that the government does not know what to do to facilitate economic growth; most would leave Jamaica if they could.
Fiscal consolidation, primary surplus target and accolades from the IMF and others of our foreign lenders, mean nothing in the growing ranks of the unemployed and despairing poor. Even the IMF has alluded to this realisation while the Government seems to be oblivious of the raging unemployment virus which is spreading so much despair among so many Jamaicans.
The Government takes credit for passing many IMF tests. It really takes no responsibility for squeezing every available dollar from our limping economy and the emptying pockets of overburdened taxpayers.
When complaints are raised about the stringency of the uniquely high, exclusive to Jamaica, 7.5 per cent primary surplus target, or the onerous tax burden on the backs of those few Jamaicans who have jobs, we are told that those albatrosses are reflection of the size of our debt.
This is said by experts with safe jobs and who give the impression that Jamaica had the highest debt at the time, when in fact Japan and Greece topped us, and Greece's primary surplus target was set by the same IMF - and the European Commission and the European Central Bank - at three per cent to four per cent.
These experts make it sound as if the ordinary taxpayers who are being taxed to a state of madness had anything to do with borrowing all that cash and ramping up the debt. The same politicians who stuffed the country with debt, without consultation with taxpayers, are the same ones who now are putting the screws on taxpayers - with the blessing of their expert friends.
After more than three years in power, the Simpson Miller administration must begin to be held responsible for the despair and loss of hope among a vast number of Jamaicans. When the unemployment numbers are low, the government uses its numerous Jamaica Information Service spots on a multitude of radio stations to take credit. Now that unemployment is so widespread and causing so much despair to the point of Jamaicans wanting to exchange their passports for a simple job, or the promise of a job, the government must take responsibility for this scourge and fashion sensible work-producing solutions.
n Aubyn Hill is CEO of Corporate Strategies Ltd and chairman of the Economic Advisory Council of the Opposition Leader.