* Lead Caribbean on job losses, 'worsening diet'
* But women enjoy better bank access than men
* Bahamas 'better targeting' social safety benefits
By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Bahamian single women have born the brunt of COVID-19's economic devastation to lead the Caribbean on both job losses and "worsening diet", the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) has revealed.
The multi-lateral lender's Mind the gender gap report, based on surveys conducted in the Bahamas and five other Caribbean nations in April 2020, found that the pandemic's economic fall-out has only served to widen the region's gender inequalities.
Noting that more than half the total respondents in The Bahamas, some 50.2 percent of men and women combined, reported losing jobs due to COVID-19 lockdowns and other restrictions, the report's authors said single women in this nation were the most impacted out of any group in the Caribbean.
"This difference is statistically and economically significant, and will likely exacerbate pre-existing inequalities in the labour market," the report said of gender issues. "The Bahamas recorded the highest share of single-females reporting job losses (56.2 percent) during the pandemic, whilst Suriname reported the lowest share of single-females reporting job losses (24.6 percent).
The other countries surveyed were Jamaica, Barbados, Guyana and Trinidad & Tobago. The report also exposed income inequalities, which were again most prevalent in The Bahamas, where 81 percent of respondents from low income households reported job losses in their family - the highest figure out of all the Caribbean.
"Those that experienced job losses were mostly in low income groups (60 percent)," the IDB report said of the whole Caribbean. "These households were also less likely to have savings to buffer prolonged income shocks as well as alternative sources of finance to mitigate the shock."
Turning to COVID-19 enforced business closures, some 50.8 percent of total respondents in The Bahamas reported being impacted - a figure in line with the Caribbean average. Businesses owned by single Bahamian men were most impacted, with 57.3 percent of respondents reporting closures, while single women-owned ventures were affected the least at 47.3 percent.
"Falling income levels translated into lower living standards, particularly for women," the IDB report added. "Changing dietary habits, and the share of respondents reporting going to bed hungry, were used as proxies to measure changes in living standards....
"Respondents of all civil status reported a worsening diet during the pandemic compared to January 2020. Yet this was more prevalent amongst single-females: 47.7 percent of single-females reported a worsening diet compared to 42.5 percent of single-males and partners.
"Out of the six Caribbean countries, single females in The Bahamas reported the highest incidence of a worsening diet (56.2 percent), whilst partners reported the lowest incidence (34.3 percent of the population)," it continued.
"Single females in Jamaica were the sub-group that reported the highest incidence of persons going to bed hungry (36 percent), over six times the incidence in comparison to single males in The Bahamas and Barbados (5.6 percent respectively, the lowest rate in the region)."
However, when it came to bank account access, Bahamian women - at 84 percent of respondents - fared better than men, at 80 percent, in terms of their direct connectivity to financial services.
The Bahamas was also highlighted for expanding its social safety net coverage from 31 percent of families to 39.8 percent when COVID-19 struck, and for better targeting these benefits to those truly in need.
"Five out of six countries expanded their social programme coverage, highlighting The Bahamas (which expanded from 31 percent to 39.8 percent), and Trinidad and Tobago (which expanded from 21.9 percent to 31.2 percent)," the IDB report said.
"Targeting seemed to improve during the pandemic in The Bahamas, Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago, with a larger share of lower income households receiving social benefits.... Breaking down these results by country, we see that only The Bahamas had a greater increase in social assistance coverage of households with single females than households with single males and partners."