By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Reviving Grand Bahama’s economy will “relieve tremendous pressure” on the rest of The Bahamas, the deputy prime minister said yesterday, following the unemployment rate’s rise to 10.7 percent.
KP Turnquest told Tribune Business that it was a Minnis administration “priority” to get the second-most populated island “back up and running” after being boosted by Department of Statistics data showing its jobless rate had declined slightly compared to May 2018 figures.
“We are pleasantly surprised, if that’s the right word, that the Grand Bahama rate seems to have come down a slight tick,” Mr Turnquest said. “That’s a least a sign we’re currently moving in the right direction.
“If we can get Grand Bahama back up and going, that’s going to relieve tremendous pressure on New Providence and other parts of The Bahamas, so certainly that’s a current priority of the government to get that back up and running.”
Besides reviving a Grand Bahama economy that has been in the doldrums for more than 14 years, Mr Turnquest said “creating opportunities for new entrepreneurs, people to become self-employed” as well as job and wage possibilities related to foreign direct investment (FDI) projects in the pipeline formed the government’s short-term strategy for combating unemployment.
He spoke after the latest jobless data, released by the Department of Statistics, showed that the unemployment rate grew slightly from 10.1 percent to 10.7 percent over the six months to November 2018 as economic growth again proved insufficient to absorb all new entrants to the Bahamian workforce.
This long-running problem was acknowledged in a Ministry of Finance statement which, while focusing on the 10,400 “net new jobs” created over the past 18 months since the Minnis administration took office, admitted: “While these gains are noteworthy, the rate of job growth is still not adequate to absorb the number of school leavers entering the labour market each year.”
These new entrants, typically numbering anywhere from 3,000 to 5,000-plus, always show up in the November unemployment survey if they are unable to find work, typically increasing the jobless rate compared to the May figures.
The total Bahamian labour force, including both employed and unemployed workers, has increased by over 6 percent or some 13,660 persons over that same May 2017 to November 2018 period. Translated, this means there are 3,260 more persons seeking work than jobs available, hence the rise in the unemployment rate since the last general election.
The Department of Statistics data also suggests that, despite Baha Mar’s opening and GDP growth rate projections of 2.3 percent for 2018 and 2.1 percent for this year, the Bahamian economy is still well short of what is required to absorb all school leavers annually plus make a significant dent in existing unemployment.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) previously estimated that GDP growth rates of between 5-5.5 percent over the five-year period to end-2018 were needed to absorb all new workforce entrants plus cut existing unemployment by 50 percent - a rate of expansion that the Bahamian economy has fallen well short of.
The pattern was repeated between the six months from May 2018 to November 2018, with 2,305 net new jobs created but the labour force, over the same period, expanding by 4,250 persons - meaning there were almost 2,000 more people than jobs created.
Still, on the positive side, Grand Bahama’s unemployment rate dropped from 12.4 percent to 11.9 percent over the six months to November 2018, while Abaco’s rate also fell from 10.78 percent to 7.7 percent.
“Overall, we welcome news that the unemployment rate improved in Grand Bahama and Abaco, two of the largest population centres outside of New Providence. The numbers of discouraged workers also decreased, pointing to greater confidence in economic prospects among job seekers,” said Mr Turnquest.
“But our target is a level of growth that will reduce unemployment in a sustained way, and will be felt evenly across the country, so the work must continue and intensify. Our focus is on strengthening and expanding efforts to boost job growth, directly and indirectly, by investing in entrepreneurship, particularly for young Bahamians, as well as human resource development and other ways to stimulate growth in the private sector.”
The Department of Statistics added that employment grew by 6,830 jobs, or 3.4 percent, compared to November 2017 figures even though this was outstripped by the rate of growth in persons looking for work.
“Employment gains were driven by private sector employees, which increased by 3.8 percent to 135,135 persons when compared to May. Additionally, the number of self-employed persons stood at 32,475, an increase of 11.9 percent since May,” the Department of Statistics said.
“Overall, the unemployment rate for women reached 11.3 percent in November, compared to 10 percent for men. Young women, those aged 15-24, and core-aged women, those aged 25 to 54, were more likely to be unemployed than their male counterparts. By contrast, men aged 55 years and over were slightly more likely to be unemployed when compared with women in their same age cohort.”
Youth unemployment for both sexes in the 15 to 24 year-old age bracket stood at 23.1 percent, while the number of discouraged workers - those who have given up looking for work - was said to have declined by 6.7 percent nationwide.
THE Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation’s (BCCEC) chief executive yesterday said it was undertaking a more “holistic look” at the November labour force statistics.
Jeffrey Beckles told Tribune Business: “On the surface you can read it as positive, and it has to be put into context, and the only way to put it in the right context is a comparative context. We have to check what they’re using as their points of reference to determine whether there were gains. We’re looking at the numbers from a year ago and what’s been recently released.
“When we look at the previous stats, it will make the report make sense or more ambiguous. Once we have taken a careful look at the numbers we’ll have a more formal statement.”