PORT OF SPAIN — The World Bank classifies Trinidad and Tobago, a dual-island nation in the Caribbean, as a “high-income country.” Yet, despite having a deceptively productive economy, Trinidad and Tobago suffers from a high level of poverty. There are several causes of poverty in Trinidad and Tobago. The nation is strong in resources, with oil prices booming and an abundance of energy sources. However, although these resources may be prevalent, there could be an issue of distribution and proper use.
While the geographical location is an obvious concern, there are other issues to consider as to the causes of poverty in Trinidad and Tobago. In a study conducted by the University of West Indies, it was calculated that 22 percent of the nation’s people are poor. The researchers found that the causes of poverty in Trinidad and Tobago were factors tied to area of residence, age, the number of residents in each household and education level of the head of household.
Therefore, drawing from the results of this study, the nation has several areas of focus, with access to education being a priority that the government can work to improve. The government could allocate funds towards programs that bring schools to remote regions, as well as provide more funds to improve the quality of education.
Although educating citizens is a way to help the impoverished attain higher-paying jobs, one area to help the 22 percent in poverty right now is to make housing more affordable. In 2012, the median price for a two-bedroom house and land was $167,000, a 300 percent increase from $39,700 in 1993. Habitat for Humanity and other charitable organizations have worked to bring affordable housing to the area, but the government and international partners have room to help.
The Trinidad and Tobago government cannot make extreme strides in lowering the housing cost, but it can build government housing in remote regions and the inner city. The United States and other partners could assist with disaster relief funding, so floods and other disasters will not result in further homelessness. Providing funds to help the people of Trinidad and Tobago would be a goodwill gesture for the United States, as the U.S. is the country’s largest trading partner, accounting for 28 percent of its total imports and 48 percent of its exports.
The energy sector in Trinidad and Tobago is extremely productive and dominates its economy. The only issue with this is that there is no form of diversification in the economy, so if the oil supply starts to run out or the price of oil declines, the country would lose much of its economic stability, which would lead to more struggles with poverty in Trinidad and Tobago.
An advantage of the economic situation as it stands is that in order for oil and other energy sources to be distributed, the workforce must be educated and English-speaking, meaning that there is potential for successful diversification. Unfortunately, this also means that less educated, impoverished citizens are unable to acquire jobs in the primary sector that produces the most jobs. So, diversification would not only be a smart investment for the Trinidad and Tobago government but for the citizens, specifically the poorest citizens. Agriculture and other industries require a less educated and specialized workforce, meaning that anyone could fill the positions.
Overall, poverty in Trinidad and Tobago is solvable. With a highly productive economy and a democratic government that rarely sees turmoil, the potential for this dual-island nation is practically endless.
– Rachael Blandau