A week ago, the Statistical Institute (STATIN) reported Jamaica's employment in April at 16.3 per cent, the highest rate of joblessness for a decade.
Among young people, particularly the 14-24 age group, unemployment was 38.5 per cent, more than four percentage points higher than a year earlier.
Such data, as depressing as they are, mask the extent of the crisis of joblessness in Jamaica. More than three-quarters of a million people - a number equivalent to approximately 60 per cent of those who actively seek work - were outside the labour force, many of them having given up on finding jobs.
Further, many of those classified as employed are in marginal jobs, or are severely underemployed.
This is the result of four decades of marginal growth, at an average of less than one per cent per annum, and a national debt that is around 150 per cent of gross domestic product. The servicing of that debt forecloses on substantial government spending on infrastructure and other necessary economic activity, and siphons capital away from the private sector.
In the circumstance, the Jamaican Government has little option but to pursue the programme of fiscal containment to which it is committed under its agreement with the International Monetary Fund as part of the strategy to reduce the debt.
Ultimately, though, the solution to Jamaica's crisis to jobs and development is to be found in economic growth. That demands investment, for which insufficient capital is forthcoming in Jamaica - at least to meet the scale of the programme. At the same time, foreign capital is in no rush to find a place in Jamaica.
It is against the backdrop of the foregoing that this newspaper notes the potential for investment in Jamaica in a number of large projects by Chinese firms, including China Harbour Engineering Company's proposal for a port and logistics centre at the Goat Islands off Jamaica's south coast.
The projected spending is US$1.5 billion, or J$150 billion. The project, during the construction phase, would employ 3,000 people and, by its build-out, would provide jobs for perhaps 15,000. If this project happens, and it plunges Jamaica into the Panamax epoch of the Panama Canal, the benefits to Jamaica could be even greater. Jamaica could be established as a centre of hemispheric, if not global, commerce.
This is the kind of big idea, and concept of our potential, that is necessary, given the depth of our problems, to give Jamaica a fighting chance in a hostile and competitive global environment.
The problem is that the proposed site for the project is part of the Portland Bight Protected Area (PBPA), a reserve of several hundred square kilometres, so assigned a decade and a half ago.
In the wake of the announcement of the Goat Islands project, the environmental campaigners have begun to warn of the likely loss of habitat of many species of animal and aquatic life. This newspaper understands and shares many of these concerns.
But we believe that there is a larger conversation to be engaged, including whether this is the best site for the project and how dangers it poses to flora and fauna can be mitigated, and whether adjustments should be made to the configuration of the PBPA. But more urgent is the matter of investment and jobs - which makes the Goat Islands project a no-brainer.
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