By George Davis
More people are broke this holiday season than last. The army of the working poor continues to swell, with the ranks of window shoppers perhaps greater than at any time in our independent history.
The year 2013 has been so bad on the economic front that you would be hard-pressed to find an employee angry at not getting a bonus at the end of the year. The anger, which was usually directed at the employer, has been replaced by sympathy and empathy. Employees are happy they at least have a job where they can earn enough to cover their basic expenses after turning over an obscene amount, by any measure, to the taxman's purse. Some employers have confessed to things being so bad that even pilferage is down, given that employees fear that by raiding the barn, it may eventually shut down the barn and deprive them of hay for their beds. It's not a joke.
These are cast-iron tough times, where if they could, pennies would bleed, given how tightly they are being pinched by the average household and shopper. For this holiday season, trips to visit relatives in the country have been shelved as many cannot afford to palm Mr Smith a 'Joshua' or bless Aunty Rita with a 'Shearer'. Or put on a round for the old men who usually gather to drink rum at Joyce Beckford's bar.
Some have stopped taking calls from certain numbers, knowing it will cost them dearly if they answer. Others have also stopped taking calls from blocked or unfamiliar numbers, knowing full well there will be a price to pay for answering. What makes the season even harsher is that people's hearts are willing to give and assist some relative or other enjoy the holidays. But pockets filled with lint, and purses and wallets packed with old receipts and useless cards cannot translate goodwill into cash. It's a sad state of affairs.
BAREFOOTED, STEEP CLIMB
We were warned by our prime minister at the start of 2013 that the year would be tough. She did say in her New Year's message that the economy, with two broken collarbones, would start a climb up a steep mountain, waking barefooted and burdened with a sack of wet cement on its back. Her warning has held true. She did promise that growth would be pursued. The only growth that many have experienced is the expanding goitre at their necks. The condition doesn't necessarily mean that the thyroid gland is malfunctioning. But the abnormal enlargement of same is stressing us out and damaging both our mental and physical health. Many of us think about how hard we've worked over the years, how we've paid our taxes and how we've never been a burden to the State. And yet we still struggle for survival in this country, to the extent that hand-to-mouth existence is like a reflex action to us.
The finance ministry, led by Dr Phil, has stuck to the task set down under the agreement with the International Monetary Fund and has met the requisite obligations. We were told by Dr Phil in his Budget presentation in May that the intention was to 'restore hope and expand opportunities' with the expenditure package approved for the 2013-14 fiscal year. That has not happened over the first nine months of the financial year. Though he has achieved success in running this most important of ministries, Dr Phil should understand why we cannot adorn him with a garland of roses. We are simply too worn out by another yearlong battle with penury.
We have been promised more of the same for 2014. Funny how politicians are always dead on the money about how hard times will be. But rarely, if ever, right when they promise improvement and enhancement. Perversely, the great flaw of Jamaicans is our resilience and resourcefulness. That's why we've been subject to bout after bout of hardship, year after year. I expect our resilience to carry over into 2014. Why? Because we have no choice. Many are hoping our leader, the prime minister, will remember us, her people, in her prayers for 2014. Me? I simply hope our prime minister will remember us in 2014. Selah.
George Davis is a journalist. Email feedback to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.