Nedburn Thaffe, Gleaner Writer
Experts are suggesting that it might not be all bad news for the country that the 2011 census has revealed Jamaica's population has aged over the last 10 years.
Addressing a Gleaner Editors' Forum at the newspaper's North Street offices in Kingston just hours after the Population and Housing Census 2011 was made available on Wednesday, former acting director general at the Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ), Dr Pauline Knight, said the country has been given "a window of opportunity" that, if capitalised on, could turn around the country's economic prospects.
"There is a positive side to the ageing. It's not just ageing for the elderly, it's ageing so that you have a growing working age population."
"(Age) 15-64 is the group that is mostly talked about as the working-age group. This group has been growing in recent years as a share of the population. Having a large segment of your population that can be economically active and earning is a demographic plus," Knight said.
According to figures revealed by the census, some 28 per cent (751,489) of Jamaica's total population was found to be in the 15-29 age group, while 38 per cent (1,026,053) were identified in the 30-64 age range. Just eight per cent (217,606) of those identified were found in the 65 and over age range, which is the stage at which most Jamaicans retire from the workforce and become eligible for pension. The remaining 26 per cent (702,835) were identified as those under the age of 15.
Yesterday, Knight, in making her case, said the current status of the population allows for the country to adequately prepare those in the working-age range with the necessary skills to enter the labour force.
"If they are not adequately equipped with the necessary things that the labour market is demanding, then we will not be able to contribute to economic growth. You need to have both the economy generating the job and on the social side, you have to prepare your working age for the job."
Knight pointed to a recent HEART Trust/NTA manpower gap analysis study to back up her claim.
Employment opportunities available
The study, which was revealed earlier this year, claimed that despite the high unemployment rate, thousands of employment opportunities are available in Jamaica but there is a problem finding persons equipped with the necessary skills to fill some of these posts.
"That is a perfect example of us having to get these things right," she said.
"You have to capitalise by ensuring that your working age are gainfully employed and can support the dependants because eventually the working age population will start to decline and then you are in a serious negative," she said.
In the meantime, chairman of Grace and Staff Community Development Foundation, James Moss-Solomon, while in agreement with Knight, said it was dependent on whether more modern means of production are utilised over the next few years to keep the economy productive.
"It may not be devastating if the jobs that we are creating are more productive by using technology and other modern ways, so having a decline in population in the working age may in fact (be all right). As long as we do the right type of jobs, it may actually be good for GDP," Moss-Solomon said.