EDITORIAL - Census a springboard for national planning
The Population and Housing Census 2011 provides a credible platform for Jamaica's bureaucrats and technocrats to tailor the necessary legislative, structural and institutional changes to ensure the viability of the State.
This is particularly so in light of the confirmation of recent trends - that Jamaicans are having fewer children. Also of importance is the fact that lifespan has also lengthened, which has significant implications for the country's economic and social fabric.
Sixty-six per cent of Jamaica's population falls in the age cohort 15-64. That means that the primary burden of powering the engine of economic growth lies on the shoulders of nearly 1.8 million persons.
If the Government is serious about harnessing this massive human resource potential, planning must converge with the highly ambitious Vision 2030 goal of Jamaica achieving First World status. That objective will be nothing but a pipe dream if political administrations pursue today's trajectory of mediocrity.
Jamaica's economic destiny, if it is to move away from the decades-old minuscule growth rate of less than one per cent, requires a highly knowledgeable and skilled workforce which is able to drive innovation. A broken education and training superstructure producing mainly low-skilled labour cannot change our fortunes.
Therefore, the Government needs to seriously consider reform of the education system and promote a vision for wider, reasonably affordable access to tertiary studies. In the evolving global village, education and training must be exploited for their ultimate utilitarian value. Jamaica cannot afford to have scholars for scholars' sake; the workforce needs to be incentivised, if not engineered, to extract prime benefit for citizen and country.
On another matter of urgency, Professor Denise Eldemire-Shearer laid out, three weeks ago in The Sunday Gleaner, an excellent analysis of Jamaica's ageing crisis.
More than 305,000 persons are 60 and over, representing an increase of nine per cent on the last decade. The population 80 years old and over has ballooned by 34 per cent to 60,000. Sixty per cent of persons over 80 are females, and women represent 67 per cent of those over 90.
These statistics are cause for concern on two counts: the financial bind in which the Government is entwined; and the fact that a large percentage of the population has no pension after retirement. Currently, many public-sector workers do not contribute to their pensions, a situation which is untenable, as we have repeatedly stated in these columns.
FACING A CATASTROPHE
This means that the Government, over the next several decades, faces a catastrophe with a tattered social security safety net. The future is gloomy, portends collapse, but is not irretrievably unfixable.
The solutions include all public-sector employees paying five per cent of their salaries towards their pensions, an arrangement which must go beyond new recruits, come January, and be extended to the current corps. More private enterprises must also be nudged to provide pension arrangements for workers.
The greying of Jamaica also presents dire straits for an already creaking health sector. Hospitals, and social security cushions such as the Jamaica Drug for the Elderly Programme, among others, will have soaring patronage. Affordability and viability, on the current path, will not be a perpetual privilege.
The upshot: Data are crucial for our planners to lay the foundation for a modern Jamaica. If our political leaders fail to chart a new, bold vision, we will be doomed to repeat the underachievements of 50 years of Independence.
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