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EDITORIAL - Where are the jobs?

Published:Saturday | April 17, 2010 | 4:00 AM

With the largest increase of persons outside the workforce falling in the 25-44 age group, we need to take serious stock of the implications for the country in its quest to achieve specific development targets by the year 2030.

Data from the Statistical Institute of Jamaica (STATIN) this week were not surprising, but indications that more and more Jamaicans are opting out of the job market in the most productive time of their lives is cause for concern.

It may be that many of these persons are finding opportunities in the informal sector where the penchant for hustling has become deeply entrenched. The informal sector, as we know, is largely unregulated and poorly organised without the requisite insurance. But that also has implications for the projected tax revenue which is required to provide public services and infrastructure development.

It was very puzzling that nearly half-million Jamaicans indicated to STATIN that they did not want to work. One wonders, how then are these persons able to fulfil their domestic and other obligations? Are these the beneficiaries of the remittance largesse? Are they enjoying a pension?

In the past, people who lost their jobs were mostly poorly educated and non-skilled workers. Now that has changed because several professionals are included in 50,000 who lost their jobs last year as companies continue to retrench areas of their workforce in response to the poor economic conditions. Those who do have jobs, including public-sector workers like the police, teachers and nurses, are finding that it is becoming more difficult to get increases. Our universities and high schools will be turning out fresh graduates this summer and their future appears rather grim.

The expected results

Reduced unemployment means less poverty, guarantees improvement in the standard of living and is a key to the overall improvement of economic performance, and contributes to a decrease in antisocial behaviour, such as crime and violence.

This is why the pre-election promise by the JLP of "jobs, jobs, jobs" resonated with many people in 2007. Sadly, these promises have remained unfulfilled because the fiscal stimulus needed to drive the economy did not materialise amid the global economic crisis.

If the administration is serious about reducing human suffering, our politicians need collectively to dig deeper at the root of the problem and find ways of putting more people to work. One medium-term solution to put more people into work would be to increase investment in agriculture, but how appealing will this be to those who have lost their jobs is hard to measure.

The adage that idle hands are the devil's playthings may explain why the level of crime is so high; there is a band of persons who really have nothing to do. No doubt many of them have put their minds to ingenious schemes to scam money from the unsuspecting.

If the goal of the political leaders is to build a society that maximises the potential of every citizen, then there has to be more opportunities, and there must be creative means of combating the ravages of unemployment.

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