Wed | Dec 12, 2018

Big Davis family feels economic pinch

Published:Wednesday | October 19, 2011 | 12:00 AM
Karen Davis looks inside a bucket in which she stores food at her home on Mandela Terrace, off Waltham Park Road in St Andrew. - Ricardo Makyn/Staff Photographer
Fifty-three-year-old Karen Davis (with baby in hand) takes time out with some of her children and grandchildren. -Photo by Anastasia Cunningham

SURVIVAL - beating a recession

As the local
economy struggles under the weight of rising food, electricity and other
costs, Jamaican families across all socio-economic groups have entered
survival mode.

Consumption pattern data provided by the
Planning Institute of Jamaica and the Statistical Institute of Jamaica
indicate a reduction in household expenditure across nearly all areas
since 2008. The data suggest further that there has been significant
belt tightening in households especially in rural townships, as
residents grapple with less available cash as a global recession ravaged
incomes worldwide.

Real mean per capita consumption
decreased in the Kingston metropolitan area and rural areas by some 13.0
per cent and 8.5 per cent respectively.

Today, The Gleaner
begins 'Survival - beating a recession', where we take a closer look at
families as they make critical adjustments in hard times.

Anastasia Cunningham, Senior Gleaner Writer

The sizeable Davis family has certainly been feeling the effects of the recession over the last few years. Their consumption pattern has largely been affected because of the drastic price increase in practically everything, coupled with the dwindling income and a family that is getting larger and larger.

The 29-member family, spanning three generations lives in a six-bedroom house in a small community off Waltham Park Road, Kingston 11. Acquiring the plot of land 22 years ago under Operation PRIDE (Programme for Resettlement and Integrated Development Enterprises), matriarch of the family, 53-year-old Karen Davis, has watched her family supersize as they continue to expand on the premises in order for everyone to live as comfortably as possible.

To them, this is the most economical way to survive, having to just focus on one monthly minimal mortgage, while putting their scarce resources towards more essential things like food, education, utilities and transportation.

Widowed four years ago, Karen said the loss of income from her husband, Sherman, who was a fisherman, has also led to a decrease in their purchasing power to maintain the large family.

Ranging from age two to 53 years old, the family consists of 12 children and 17 adults. Twelve of them are Karen's children and nine her grandchildren. The other eight comprise of cousins or partners of her children.

Five of the adults have permanent jobs, while the others do the occasional odd jobs here and there.

Of the children, two are in high school, two in primary school and five in basic school.


"Times getting harder and harder," declared Karen.

"Things raise, so you can't expect to spend the same thing now that you used to spend three years ago. As a matter of fact, I spending even more now but getting less for it. Sometimes I can hardly find the lunch money or to cook a evening time."

Karen said most of their little income is spent on food, which now averages more than $1,000 each day for the big family.

All eating from one pot, she said chicken back and white rice has been the family dish for years. Each day they cook approximately six pounds of rice and six pounds of chicken back. On Sundays, that is increased to 10 pounds each, washed down with a cup of lemonade.

"And even that can't share. Me have to cut up the chicken back very small for it to share. Sometimes if mi nuh mind sharp me nuh get none, so you have to know how to share and mek it stretch so everybody can get little. And with things getting more expensive we have to cook more because the grandchildren are growing up and eating more," she noted.

Karen stated that three years ago she would have bought the occasional pig trotters or fish. In fact, fish was a regular dish on the table when her husband was alive, given that he was a fisherman. But nowadays, chicken back is their only meat kind.

"That is the only thing we can afford. Rice and chicken back. I couldn't tell the last time we buy anything else, although when me get any food mi we cook it too," she related.

"But all the chicken back a get expensive. One time when me used to pay like $35 a pound, now mi a pay $60 and $80 and some place $120 a pound for the hand cut."

The children occasionally snack on bag juice and Cheese Trix.

The diminutive woman disclosed that she gets assistance with food items from her church each month, from the monthly supplies they get from Food For The Poor.


Without permanent work at the moment, Karen, who does the occasional job as a household helper, is now directly responsible for her two youngest children, 10-year-old Daniel and 15-year-old Shion.

Although, due to financial constraints, most of her children did not achieve much more than a high school education, she is adamant that these two will get the opportunity to move on to the university level to pursue the careers of their choice, and she will make whatever sacrifice is needed to achieve that.

Lunch money for the week for Daniel and Shion averages $2,500. They are also on the Programme of Advancement Through Health and Education (PATH). Admitting that sometimes she cannot find their lunch money, she ensures that they go to school everyday.

"I really want to become a criminal lawyer," said Shion, who is now in grade 10 at Denham Town High School.

"I want to be a teacher," chipped in Karen's 12-year-old granddaughter Sherona, a seventh grade student at Edith Dalton James High School.

"Soldier!" shouted Daniel, before the question could be posed to him of his career choice. He is currently in grade five at John Mills Primary.

$7,000 spent on books

Finding the money to purchase their textbooks has become increasingly challenging.

"Like this term I spent $7,000 on books for Daniel and only get five, and I still have more to buy. Three years ago I use the same $7,000 and get all of him textbooks," she noted.

The children utilise the bus service as their means of transportation, as do most of the other family members. However, they occasionally use the service of robot taxis.

"When them in them school uniform they pay $20, and $50 when them don't wear it. For me now the bus is $80 and if me can't wait on the bus a tek a $90 robot taxi," she stated.

Two of the adults drive their own cars, one a bike, one a bicycle and another sometimes has the use of the vehicle from the company he drives for.

Where clothing is concerned, she occasionally tries to buy what she can for the two," but I couldn't tell the last time I buy clothes for myself."

The increasing cost of utilities such as water, electricity and phone card is another pressing factor - the combined bills climbing this month to more than $25,000.

Thanks to the flexibility of the National Housing Development Corporation Limited (now the Housing Agency of Jamaica), they are allowed to pay what they have each month on the mortgage.

"If we have a $500 or $1,000, we can just go in an pay it, so we can pay little little 'til mi done pay for the place," she noted.

A Christian family for the most part, Karen and most of the younger children attend church regularly. There are the occasional family conflicts, but she prides herself on having a happy family, which usually operates as a unit.

Family members

Widow Karen Davis, 53, head of the household; Courtney Wallace, 31; Peter Thomas, 29; Dave Davis, 28; Nickesha Reckford, 28; Kelisha Davis, 27; twins Keisha and Tricia Davis, 26; Joanna Matthews, 25; Rachel Davis, 23; twins Shawn and Lashana Davis, 22; Marvin Davis, 20; Conroy Waltham, 20; Jason Davis, 19; Oshane Allen, 19; Oshane Bryan, 19; Shion Davis, 15; Sherona Wallace, 12; Daniel Davis, 10; Davia Davis, 10; Trishanna Wallace, 9; Davian Roberts, 6; Damar McIntosh, 5; Marshell Dean, 5; Jada Perkinson, 3; Shanika Davis, 3; Sara Dean, 3; and Sashna Thomas, 2.