You need not occupy David Wan's privileged seat of president of the Employers' Federation to know that Jamaica's economy will not provide enough jobs to satisfy the roughly 40,000 school leavers who will join the workforce this year.
This has been the case for more than 40 years.
The reason is simple: During that period, the Jamaican economy has, essentially, been stagnant, growing at an annual average rate of less than one per cent.
Meagre economic growth translates into an absence of sufficient new jobs to satisfy demand, which means high levels of joblessness.
Indeed, the most recent data, at April this year, showed Jamaica's unemployment at 16.3 per cent, the highest in a decade. But that figure masks a deeper crisis.
It suggests that approximately 84 per cent of the labour force, or just over 1.1 million, were in jobs. However, we do not believe that we would be far wrong to claim that upwards of 40 per cent of those who say they are in jobs are severely underemployed, or are in marginal jobs. Further, more than three-quarter million of working age are outside the labour force.
Of that group, perhaps 200,000 are in school full-time, while another 50,000 are, for various reasons, incapable of seeking jobs. A half a million or so mainly young people have opted out of the workforce, in part because they have grown frustrated at ever finding jobs. Add that to the unemployment rate among the youth, those in the 14-24 age range, which is above 38 per cent. Looked at from these angles, Jamaica is perched, potentially, on a social powder keg.
A major cause of this dilemma is decades of bad economic policy, primarily of our governments' huge fiscal deficits and their attempts to close the gap with borrowings. The result of this egregious behaviour is our now unsustainable debt of around 150 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP), among the world's worst debt-to-GDP ratios.
Extricating ourselves from this dilemma won't be easy. But what is clear is that the fix does not lie in an abandonment of the tough fiscal containment policy the Government is being forced to implement under its agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Indeed, it insists upon an acceleration of the economic reform programme to which we are committed, including tough decisions to modernise the public sector, the pension regime for civil servants, and the basis on which the Government taxes citizens and collects what is due to it.
Pursuing this programme requires that the Government, even as it provides a cushion for the society's most vulnerable, explain to people the depth of the crisis and the limited options available. It ought to be a critical part of the strategy for keeping unlit the wick to the powder keg, which, hopefully, is appreciated by the person who ought to be Government's explainer-in-chief, Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller.
There is, in the meantime, an upside to the Government doing the right thing. Following good policies lifts business and confidence. Less borrowing by the Government leaves more for David Wan's members to invest, create jobs and, ultimately, stimulate economic growth.
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