Editorial

Jamaica has a vested interest in reliable employment figures

Sunday, April 09, 2017    

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If the ultimate goal of economic growth is to improve the quality of life of the people of a country, then the higher the rate of economic growth, the more benefits that are available to be shared.

The main way in which the majority of people benefit from the economy and economic growth is through employment.

The current perception is that persistent unemployment is much too high, yet the rate of unemployment has declined in recent years, according to official figures. No wonder some people question these figures.

For example, the rate of unemployment in 2016 was 13.7 per cent, compared with 16 per cent and higher previously.


This, of course, may be an underestimation, since the labour force is defined to include only people employed and those actively seeking jobs.

There are many people in Jamaica who are unemployed but are not seeking work for a variety of reasons — for example, they are living off remittances, have given up in frustration or are just plain too lazy.

Jamaicans tend to regard themselves as unemployed if they are doing work which does not earn wages.

Housework and child rearing are tasks not generally regarded as employment, unless it they are done by domestic helpers.

Estimates of this type of unpaid work are included in the calculation of gross domestic product in some countries, but not in Jamaica.

It is commonplace that in an economy some people are in-between jobs, hence there is never absolute full employment. This group usually accounts for two per cent of those who are unemployed.

But in developing countries there is usually a hard-core group of unemployed, which Sir Arthur Lewis, the Caribbean Nobel Prize winner in economics, describes as “unemployable”.

Many of those who are working are self-employed and there is hardly any way of knowing for sure how many hours or what kind of work they do or how regularly they work. It is also reasonable to assume that there is considerable “underemployment”.

Productivity in Jamaica is low by international standards, both in the public and private sectors, and this is characteristic of both workers and managers.

Employment and productivity are the keys to high rates of economic growth and therefore Jamaica needs to increase both employment and productivity.

As a country we therefore have a vested interest in having a factual evaluation of the current levels of employment and unemployment, hence nothing is wrong with having a healthy dose of scepticism about official jobs figures, hopefully to keep the authorities on their toes.

Employment creation and improved productivity must be the twin priorities for Jamaica.

The Government does not have the resources to be an employment agency, but it must create the policy environment for growth, which it is doing with our best wishes.

Employment creation is the responsibility of the private sector because it is the engine of economic growth.

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