We have great empathy for the motive behind the memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed Monday between the Government and the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce (JCC), aimed at encouraging firms to add up to 40,000 new workers to their payrolls.
For while the official unemployment rate of 14.3 per cent, or approximately 177,000 people, is bad enough, it doesn't tell the whole story of joblessness in Jamaica.
Indeed, a large portion of 1.08 million Jamaicans listed as employed merely eke out an existence in marginal jobs. They are underemployed.
Young people fare worse in this barren environment. Of the 400,000 or so Jamaicans who are between 15 and 29, nearly 60 per cent are either unemployed or out of the labour force, and of the 250,000 under 20, most are neither in school nor in jobs. The country faces a crisis that is potentially explosive.
We, however, harbour grave doubts that a project such as the one implied by this week's MOU represents the kind of policy that is either sustainable or efficacious. The cynics might even claim that what is being attempted is a programme of private-sector welfarism.
Fundamentally, Jamaica's crisis of joblessness is the product of a systemic underperformance of an economy burdened by an unsustainable public debt. Over the past 40 years, growth in GDP has averaged less than one per cent a year.
Looked at another way, for a long time the Government has been siphoning off for debt-servicing resources that might have gone into private investment, but with little to show for the capital it borrowed. This problem has been exacerbated in recent years by the global economic crisis.
Not only are global financial markets more difficult to penetrate by marginally rated borrowers like Jamaica, markets for our tourism and other products are less receptive, and Jamaicans in the diaspora have less cash to send home.
Implications for business
Businesses here are feeling the pinch, with falling sales. This is in the context that many have put projects on hold, shed jobs and hunkered down, attempting to ride out the storm. It is in this environment, too, seemingly as a moral obligation, that firms are being asked to add staff.
There may be companies that can absorb at least one employee, as proposed by Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller. But as Milton Samuda, the JCC president, knows, adding staff for its own sake in circumstances of existing low productivity does nothing for business - except drive it further to the brink.
Of course, specialised, short-term, public-sector job programmes that deliver value as well-thought-out apprenticeship schemes involving the private sector have their place, especially in difficult times.
But the Government will be more effective at job creation if it articulates, and implements, credible strategies to tackling the debt, enhancing productivity and creating an environment conducive to doing business. That must be Mrs Simpson Miller's charge for her address to her party's annual conference this weekend.
For she must realise that on the present course, Jamaicans are rapidly losing confidence in her administration.
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