KINGSTON — Jamaica, like many other Caribbean nations, relies heavily on tourism dollars to drive the economy. As the largest English-speaking island in the region, Jamaica is also home to one of the larger economies in the region. And, while poverty isn’t as pronounced in Jamaica as say in its neighbor Haiti, there are still several causes of poverty in Jamaica that have left many struggling.
The Global Recession of 2007
According to the World Bank, in 2012, the official poverty rate in Jamaica fell just shy of 20 percent. Conditions in Jamaica have improved in the last quarter century; the poverty rate at one point topped 30 percent. Yet, recently the number of Jamaicans living in poverty has increased. A look to economic indicator data illuminates some of the causes of poverty in Jamaica.
The poverty rate was 9.9 percent in 2007 — the lowest it’s ever been since the World Bank started collecting data. The year after, incomes across the world suffered and as tourism is and was the island’s main draw, Jamaica suffered from higher unemployment due to a drop off in visitors. In 2007 the unemployment rate was 9.3 percent and in the following years climbed to a high of 15.25 percent in 2013. In the last four years, employment has rebounded somewhat to where it sits now at 13.8 percent.
Aside from the 2007 financial crisis and subsequent shock to the economy, Jamaica has been one of the slowest Caribbean nations to recover. In the past five years Jamaica has, on average, realized a half of a percentage of annual GDP growth. Slow growth compounded with a high unemployment rate is just one of the causes of poverty in Jamaica.
While Jamaica’s average growth hasn’t been stellar, it’s been growing recently, even topping 1.6 percent in 2016. This bodes well for Jamaican Prime Minister Holness, who recently committed to growth for all Jamaicans, starting with the education system which is in and of itself one of the main causes of poverty in Jamaica.
“The fees are not obligatory, and no child should be discriminated against by virtue of their economic circumstances.” Holness said to the Jamaican press on August 24.
The fees in question are registration fees that families have to pay to send their children to school. On top of said fees, the Jamaican government doesn’t currently cover other expenses associated with schooling. As a result, many children can’t afford to attend school and obtain the formal education usually associated with and correlated to climbing the socioeconomic ladder.
A Positive Forecast
The World Bank, in a recent press release, forecasted further and more accelerated economic growth in Jamaica. Aided by growth in the U.S., lower energy costs and a more fervent investment environment, the Jamaican GDP is forecasted to grow by two percentage points in 2017.
Coupled with the progressive anti-poverty policies of PM Holness plans on tackling the causes of poverty in Jamaica. Employment will experience an uptick as the economy grows and lowering the barriers to education will lead to a more productive and healthy Jamaica in the long run.
– Thomas James Anania