January 25, 2017
Junk bond status and a no-growth economy notwithstanding, Prime Minister Perry Christie has declared that Bahamians have "every indication before them that we are on the path to recovery as a country".
Seeking to present evidence to support his claim, Christie pointed to 32,000 jobs created this term, and urged PLPs to "let the statistics put out by the statistics department speak for us".
While PLPs who attended their party's prayer breakfast on Sunday enthusiastically applauded Christie's statement, and while an uncontexualized look at the statistics shows 32,000 more people listed as employed in October 2016 compared
to May 2012, the prime minister's boast left many others wondering what Bahamas the prime minister is talking about.
The last survey released by the Department of Statistics in December, attributed a decline in the unemployment rate -- from 12.7 percent in May to 11.6 percent in October -- partly to temporary construction jobs created as a result of Hurricane Matthew.
When asked if the construction jobs spurred to address the damage caused by the storm masked the displacement of workers and businesses following the storm and perhaps skewed the actual unemployment situation, Department of Statistics Acting Director Leona Wilson told us, "That's a very good question, but it's difficult for me to say because we did not do that level of investigation in the survey."
When they reported that unemployment was down from 14.8 percent to 12.7 percent nationally last May, the statisticians said this was partly attributed to hiring associated with Bahamas Junkanoo Carnival.
At that time, they also acknowledged that the event, which provides temporary jobs, may not be a true reflection of unemployment trends when compared to November 2015, and said they would consider changing the date of the survey in the future.
In 2015, the inaugural carnival event was also listed as a key factor in driving down unemployment from 15.7 percent to 12 percent nationally through the creation of temporary jobs.
But the loss of around 2,000 jobs at Baha Mar not long after helped push the unemployment rate up to 14.8 percent.
That Baha Mar has started hiring again is good news for The Bahamas.
Christie, no doubt, will quote the 32,000 jobs figure liberally on the campaign trail.
However, he will not point out that the jobless situation was repeatedly improved as a result of temporary jobs -- which are nothing to celebrate.
Temporary jobs are called temporary jobs for a reason. They do not last beyond a few weeks, even if they somehow end up as a part of the grand tally that becomes the politicians' talking point.
Ask any MP -- PLP or FNM -- or any candidate for that matter what the primary concern is they are hearing on the ground and they would tell you it is the poor state of the economy and the grave difficulty in finding employment.
One candidate for a constituency in the southwestern corridor of New Providence told us just this week that the top three concerns he hears when he speaks to constituents are jobs, jobs and jobs.
The survey taken in May 2012, listed 28,125 people as unemployed.
The last unemployment survey -- the one released in December 2016 -- listed the number of unemployed people at 25,365.
There is little for Christie to pat himself on the back for as it relates to the state of the national economy and the jobless situation.
Last December, the world's largest credit ratings agency, Standard & Poor's, downgraded The Bahamas' sovereign credit rating to sub investment grade level, in a grim economic report on the country's fiscal health and future.
The government responded, insisting that the credit ratings agency did not key in all the economic factors that prove the country is on a more positive path to growth.
S&P said the downgrade was a reflection of "weaker than expected GDP growth", estimating The Bahamas' GDP to grow by only 0.3 percent in 2016.
At the same time, the agency projected that GDP growth would be one percent this year and an average 1.3 percent during the next two years.
Among other concerns, the agency pointed to double-digit unemployment.
Not long after the downgrade, the prime minister suggested were it not for acts of god (hurricanes Joaquin in 2015 and Matthew in 2016), the downgrade would not have happened.
Meanwhile, he continues to tout Baha Mar as the answer to our economic woes.
The reasons why Christie's declaration on Sunday is being met with such skepticism are two-fold: People in very large numbers just do not feel any progress on the ground, and Christie's trustworthiness as a political leader eroded a long time ago.
That said, the number of jobs alone does not say much.
Christie knows this, but it does not work to his political advantage to honestly explain the context.
Sensible people know that context does matter.
It is silly to tout the creation of 32,000 jobs in a no-growth economy.
The broad number also does not explain the quality of jobs, and whether those jobs are permanent or temporary.
While the prime minister brags about job creation, the National Insurance Board's reports over the years do not show a dramatic increase in the numbers of new employees being added as contributors.
In its 2012 report, it listed 142,000 "active employees". This was up by only 3,000 in its 2015 annual report.
Those numbers for sure beg explanation, and do not line up with the level of job creation reflected in the raw numbers from the Department of Statistics.
Of course, politicians have often tailored their responses to these numbers to suit their own political agendas.
For instance, earlier in the term, Deputy Prime Minister Philip Davis called into question the integrity of the fine professionals of the Department of Statistics when he said he had doubts over the figures that showed unemployment had risen, though he admitted he had not seen the department's report.
We believe it is unhelpful and wrong to question the professionalism of the statisticians who complete the Labour Force Survey twice a year.
But there is clearly a need for more regular surveys to be conducted and for more comprehensive data to be made available to provide an accurate context of the state of employment in The Bahamas.
This would require the department being provided with more resources. By the time the results of their surveys are calculated and released to the public, the state of the job market could have changed.
Back in September 2012 when the Department of Statistics released the results of the May 2012 Labour Force Survey, Director of Statistics Kelsie Dorsett pointed out that a declining unemployment rate is not necessarily cause to bring out the marching bands.
"Usually when you see a decline in unemployment, it sort of gives you the feeling that 'Hey, things are starting to recover', but I wouldn't look into that in isolation at this point in time, because of the time when this survey was taken," Dorsett told us.
Likewise, the prime minister should not tout the 32,000 jobs figure in isolation.
It is simply not enough to say "the statistics speak for us".
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News date : 01/25/2017 Category : Nassau Guardian Stories