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Elizabeth Morgan | 60 years on: What real economic progress has Jamaica made? How far are we from 1962?

Published:Wednesday | August 17, 2022 | 12:07 AM

This is a controversial issue, I know, and raises questions about the measurement of development. My article last week on Jamaica’s achievements after 60 years of Independence led me to do a comparison between statistics for the Jamaican economy in 1962, adjusted for inflation to 2021 values, and comparing them to the existing 2019 and 2021 statistics. I was looking at the purchasing power in the two periods.

My findings, if accurate, are quite troubling as they indicate that, in 60 years, Jamaica has not moved very far from its economic situation in 1962, in spite of appearances (houses, cars, infrastructure, etc).

Let me say that my calculations are rough estimates and my statistics are taken from the World Bank websites online and the inflation conversion websites.

JAMAICAN ECONOMY IN 1962

Jamaica’s population in 1962 was 1.7 million. The GDP was US$778 million, which adjusted to 2021 values, is US$7.6 billion. Jamaica’s per capita GDP in 1962 was US$464 and, at 2021 values, is estimated at US$4,027. Jamaica’s exports of goods in 1962 were valued at US$182 million, which adjusted to 2021, is US$1.58 billion. Imports were US$223 million (inflation adjusted is US$1.94 billion).

A grade 1 worker in construction in 1962 could earn about £2.10 shillings per week, which, by my calculation, was about US$6.00 and adjusted to 2021 value is US$52.00 (J$7,500).

A patty in 1962, I am told, cost about US$0.12, which in 2021 adjusted value, would be about US$1.04[J$156.00] or less. I am informed that a weekly wage of £2 10/- (2 pounds 10 shillings) in 1962 could purchase a fair amount of goods and services.

JAMAICAN ECONOMY IN 2021

Jamaica’s population in 2021 is estimated at 2.9 million. Jamaica’s GDP in 2021 was US$13.81 billion and, in 2019, was US$15.83 billion. The per capita GDP for 2021 was US$4,500 and, in 2019, was US$5,370. In 2021, exports were valued at US$1.44 billion and imports at US$6 billion.

In 2019, exports were valued at US$1.65 billion and imports at US$6.41 billion. A grade 1 construction worker now could be earning about US$60 per week (J$9,000). The national minimum wage is actually J$9,000. In ‘pattinomics’, a patty now cost US$1.60 (J$240).

[SEE TABLE 1]

By these calculations, it is seeming to me that the purchasing power in 1962 was not far from that in Jamaica today (2021/2022) and this, I am informed, is an indication of an economy which has stagnated over the last 60 years, bearing in mind that for over 50 years, Jamaica’s GDP growth rate has average one per cent, and, of course, we have to take account of vulnerabilities faced, natural and man-made, including the COVID-19 pandemic.

OTHER COUNTRIES

I looked at the GDP and GDP per capita for the three other CARICOM countries which also became independent in the 1960s: Trinidad and Tobago –1962, and Barbados and Guyana – 1966.

[SEE TABLE 2]

The figures indicate that Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados and Guyana have made economic advances over the last 60 years, while Jamaica seems to be mostly jogging in place.

I also took a look at Mauritius, which also became independent in the 1960s. In 1962, Mauritius had per capita GDP of about US$200 (adjusted for inflation is US$1,736) and, in 2019, had a per capita GDP of US$11,097, which declined to US$8,812 in 2021.

Of course, in this assessment one must take account of the COVID effect and for Guyana, consider development of their petroleum resources in recent years.

If my calculations and assessments are correct, then Jamaicans have further reason to be very concerned about the country’s future.

If not already done, I could not find such a study, it would be very interesting to see what a proper comparison of the economies of 1962 and 2021/2022 would reveal about Jamaica’s progress on its development journey since Independence, bearing in mind that the World Bank now classifies the country as upper middle income.

Elizabeth Morgan is a specialist in international trade policy and international politics. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com