By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Deputy Chief Reporter
Deputy Prime Minister K Peter Turnquest has conceded the Minnis administration still has a lot of work to do to ensure every Bahamian has the opportunity to earn a decent living.
His statement came in the wake of figures released by Senior Statistician Cypreanna Winters of the Department of Statistics which show the unemployment rate now stands at ten percent, a fractional decrease when compared with November’s rate of 10.1 percent.
Despite more people finding work since last year - an increase of 2.2 percent from 203,730 to 208,255 - this was not enough to cause significant change in the overall unemployment figure.
Officials also said the Labour Force Survey – conducted from April 29 to May 5 - found of the islands surveyed, only New Providence showed notable improvement.
Ten percent of people in the capital remain without gainful employment, whereas in 2017, 10.6 people were not working.
In contrast at the time of the survey, the rate in Grand Bahama was 12.4 percent and 10.7 percent in Abaco.
This is something the Progressive Liberal Party does not find surprising, PLP Deputy Leader Chester Cooper said, adding there were also several other “alarming” elements of the Department of Statistics’ latest results.
He said the government has to do more in the Family Islands to grow job availability and to level off the economy where there is clear contraction.
“We still have a lot of work yet to do to ensure that every Bahamian has an opportunity to earn a decent living within their own country,” Mr Turnquest told The Tribune yesterday.
“To that end, we continue to look for initiatives to stimulate economic investment and job creation activity, such as the Commercial Enterprise Act that is showing early signs of success, particularly with the tech hub initiative in Grand Bahama and the relocation of a major energy company’s trading hub to Nassau.
“The Small Business Development Centre, which is to be officially launched soon, will serve as a business incubator for domestic investment in the micro, small and medium sized business sector, providing opportunity for entrepreneurs to develop their ideas and source start-up capital to support those creative visions that we hope to inspire. We are also supporting this vision with dedicated procurement initiatives aimed at supporting this sector.
“The recently signed job skills development programme, supported by an IDB loan recently formalised, will help us to ensure that our young people in particular, will receive the skills training they most specifically need to address targeted gaps in technical skills needed to addressed existing and future jobs anticipated, in a planned and deliberate way. Finally, the extension of the 52-week job programme coupled with free tuition at BTVI and UB will provide immediate short-term jobs and training for other Bahamians.”
The finance minister continued: “The government remains focused on improving the lives of ordinary Bahamians today while investing in physical and economic infrastructure, together with human development initiatives to ensure our people are prepared to embrace the opportunities that exist today and that will be available in the future.”
When he spoke to the matter on the sidelines of the PLP’s special one-day convention on Saturday, Mr Cooper said he was “deeply concerned” with the findings of officials in the Department of Statistics.
Their results further revealed an increase in the number of discouraged workers. This grouping showed an increase of 6.9 percent. These are people who did not look for work because they believed no jobs were available for them.
Unemployment among youth aged 15 to 24 remained considerably high. Their unemployment rate increased from 22.1 percent in November 2017 to 24.1 percent in May.
Mr Cooper said: “What’s most alarming however is the rate of unemployment amongst the youth and I remind you that these statistics were completed at the end of May. Since May as you are well aware, there were graduations from high schools, graduations from colleges and thousands of young people returning to the Bahamas in search of gainful employment.
“So, I am deeply concerned about that in particular. I am concerned that the government isn’t doing enough to create jobs. It’s not doing enough to drive the economy. It’s not doing enough to attract foreign direct investments or local investments and therefore we continue to see many of your young people out of work and eager to work.
“Another element of this report that was particularly alarming is the increase in discouraged workers,” he continued. “So, what we are seeing is a large number of individuals who are now not looking for work, discouraged.
“The government must inspire confidence in the economy. They must do more to speak to many of the things that the former government may have left in the pipeline by way for foreign direct investment,” Mr Cooper said.
For some, the results mean the economy is stable and strong.
Labour Minister Dion Foulkes took this position following the release of the results on Friday. He said the fact that employment increased compared with last November’s survey is very good news for Bahamian workers and their families.