Spotlighting population, Labour Market and Job Creation
The Economic Growth Council reports to Cabinet through the Minister of Economic Growth and Job Creation, where portfolio responsibility is held by the prime minister. The title of the council does not explicitly include "job creation", but this is explicitly part of the name of the parent ministry. In any event, it is generally accepted that a key objective of economic growth is to improve the material quality of life of the broad population through the vehicle of providing "decent work". Stronger economic growth does not automatically translate into "decent work" or an improvement in the material circumstances of most of the population.
The programme for economic growth is expected to be twinned with an understanding of the labour market and an articulation of how its peculiar problems are expected to be addressed in providing decent work. This will allow for an understanding of how "five in four" translates into an effective programme of "job creation".
With a declining birth rate, a flat death rate, and steady net out migration, Jamaica's population in recent years has been growing marginally at between 0.2 per cent and 0.3 per cent per year. Despite an increase in the "dependent elderly" in 2015, a relatively flat share of children (up to 14 years old), and an increase in the working-age population occasioned a decline in the age-dependency ratio (children plus dependent elderly as a percentage of the working-age population).
Within a total population of approximately 2.7 million, STATIN's survey at April 2016 reported a labour force (those working and actively seeking work) at 1.354 million, an increase of 0.6 per cent relative to April 2015. In recent years, over 35 per cent of the population 14 years and older has been neither working nor looking for work. When allowance is made for continuing education, there would be a significant element of the population not participating in the formal economy.
At April 2016, employment was 1.169 million, an increase of 40,100 relative to April 2015. With the labour force expanding by more than the number of jobs, the rate of unemployment increased to 13.7 per cent for April 2016 relative to 13.2 per cent at April 2015. The unemployment rate for men declined from 10.3 per cent to 9.6 per cent, while that for women increased from 16.6 per cent to 18.4 per cent. Unemployment among youth (14-24 years old) declined from 33.1 per cent to 32.0 per cent.
By industry group, "wholesale, retail and repair of motor vehicle and equipment" provided the largest share (19.3 per cent) of employment at April 2016 while "agriculture, forestry and fishing" provided 17.6 per cent; "hotels, restaurants and services" provided 7.5 per cent, and "construction" 7.4 per cent. By occupational group, the largest contribution at January 2016 came from "professionals, senior officials, and technicians" (22.9 per cent), with "service workers and shop and market sales workers" providing 21.7 per cent; "skilled agriculture and fishery workers" 16.1 per cent, and "elementary occupations" 14.5 per cent."
From the foregoing characterisation of the population and the labour market, the following observations appear pertinent to the analysis and implementation of job creation:
i. Stagnation of population growth raises concerns about the quantity of labour available to sustain higher rates of economic growth in the medium to long run.
ii. Increasing life expectancy may eventually increase the age dependency ratio, placing greater demands on the working-age population, directly and through demands on the budget.
iii. There needs to be more investigation of the percentage of the working-age population outside the labour force as it may reflect disenchantment and underpin alternative economic engagement if not anti-social behaviour.
iv. The relative buoyancy of the economy over the past six quarters, including increased employment, may have led to employment optimism increasing faster than job availability.
v. The level and trend of female unemployment is of concern, especially considering that about 50 per cent of Jamaican households are female headed and that these are less "well off" than male-headed households.
vi. Despite marginal improvement, the rate of youth unemployment is alarming and underpins cynicism, socio-political withdrawal, and represents a potential breeding ground for crime.
vii. Employment by industry and occupational group reflects the service-dominant nature of the economy. The "agriculture" group is still a major employer, but other traditional and new sectors have to expand significantly to make a more meaningful contribution to job creation.
In this context, the analytical and institutional framework for the creation of "decent work" needs to be addressed.
Colin F. Bullock is an economist and a former head of the Planning Institute of Jamaica. Colbul3@gmail.com