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EDITORIAL - Mr Junior Rose and a greyer Jamaica

Published:Wednesday | February 17, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Mr Junior Rose's prescription for dealing with the problem of joblessness among young people was clearly naive and perhaps juvenile.

Hopefully, however, his remarks will lead to discussion of a related demographic issue that is of growing importance, but on which there is insufficient attention: the matter of ageing and its consequences, economic and otherwise, for Jamaica.

Mr Rose is the chairman of an organisation called the Jamaica Association of Young Professionals, membership to which, we suppose, is restricted to people not past their mid-30s.

This week, Mr Rose advocated that there should be "some sort of affirmative action for youth employment", by which he meant that firms should set aside a proportion of their workforce - at least five per cent - for employees below a certain age. What the benchmark age should be we are not certain.

Flawed argument

What, however, is pellucid, is the flaw in Mr Rose's argument. For, as Mr Wayne Chen, the president of the Jamaica Employers' Federation, pointed out, Mr Rose's prescription is really for a redistribution of jobs, much the same way as dogmatic socialists would have redistributed poverty. Or, put another way, the socialists failed to create wealth, which is the failing of Mr Rose's proposal.

Unemployment among young people - a quarter of the people in the 20-24 age group - is high not because older people have the jobs. Rather, the Jamaican economy has for a long time failed to perform. Over the past decade, for instance, annual average growth has been under two per cent, instead of the six per cent or more that is necessary to begin to effectively deal with joblessness.

In any event, it is to misapprehend the unemployment situation to take at face value the jobless rate of perhaps seven per cent among people in the 45-54 age group. That figure, like the estimated 12 per cent national unemployment rate, masks a high level of underemployment and the fact that many people are out of the job market because of frustration over the lack of opportunities.

An ageing population

But Mr Rose missed another fundamental issue in his remarks: that of Jamaica's first tentative steps into the ranks of countries with ageing populations.

More than seven per cent of the population is 65 and/or older, and more than twice that amount is 55 or over - an ageing rate that is more than one per cent a year. Moreover, the fertility rate of just two children among women of child-bearing age is nearly 30 per cent below that of three decades ago. At the same time, people are living longer: Jamaica's life expectancy of nearly 74 approaches First-World standards.

Yet, Jamaica lacks a comprehensive pension or social welfare system to look after people at retirement. At the same time, people are more likely, than in the past, to be relatively healthy, and potentially productive, at these mature ages. In those circumstances, they will have to be in jobs to sustain themselves.

There is a real problem of not only youth unemployment, but joblessness, generally. The answer to this can't be to throw older people out of jobs so that the young people can have them. The priority is economic growth.

At the same time, we, Mr Rose included, have to discuss the broader demographic issue of a society growing increasingly grey.

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