By Karen Abrams
Guyana’s 2002 census results reported overall unemployment at 11.7% in 2002. The World Bank later reported an overall unemployment rate of 11% in 2007. These numbers while hardly stellar are understandable for a developing country. The real alarm comes from a deeper investigation of the reporting. An alarming 36% of 15 – 19-year-olds are unemployed, while 16.9% of 16 – 24-year-olds and 11% of 25 to 29-year-olds are unemployed. Many continue to argue the case that the real numbers are actually worse but the reported numbers are bad enough. The numbers didn’t change in 2007 and there are no compelling economic reasons to believe that the employment numbers have changed significantly in 2011.
The unemployment rate is really a simple formula; (number of unemployment citizens / total labour force) x 100. This rate is prone to under reporting as it doesn’t capture the thousands of young people who have just given up looking for work or the thousands who are grossly under-employed. Under-employed is defined as working but hardly for a liveable wage. The unemployment rate is a key indicator of the health of a nation and as such should be determined, analyzed and reported to the nation at least annually. Today, it is not. If such a large number of our young people want to work but no jobs are available, the resulting problems for Guyana will be disastrous.
A further investigation of the numbers reveals an astounding pattern. A pattern which indicates what so many of us have known for a long time and have come to accept as unchangeable. The pattern indicates that compared to an 11.8% unemployment rate in Region Four, that Region One at 16.6%, Region Two at 15.5%, Region Five at 14.6%, Region Eight at 19.3% and Region 10 at 15.5% continue to suffer significantly higher overall unemployment rates which overwhelming affect the economic, social and quality of life for the citizens of these regions. The question to be asked is, are these regions not part of Guyana? And if so, don’t the residents of these regions want the same for their communities that people living closer to the coast want for their own families?
One cannot discuss reducing unemployment without having a good understanding of the cause and resultant effects. Simply put, unemployment is caused by a lack of job opportunities or a lack of qualified applicants. Young people must make use of every opportunity available to educate themselves in preparation for nation building in a new world. A developing country like Guyana must be serious about making local investment a priority. Guyana needs significantly more small and large businesses. Guyana needs more investment from local entrepreneurs, from our Caribbean brothers and sisters, from the Diaspora and from large international firms. The Guyana government needs to focus on reducing the bureaucratic delays involved in starting a business in Guyana as reported last week in this column. The government and international agencies which are serious about aiding development in Guyana need to work with local banks to provide guaranteed low interest loans to citizens who have a solid business plan and a keen interest in entrepreneurship. The Guyana government’s role should be to ensure that the infrastructure is in place to encourage massive business development in Guyana and then open the doors of opportunity without regard to ethnicity or connections.
Investors will then come. In great numbers, they will come but they will want a secure environment, good roads and transportation, access to affordable housing and real estate, fair tax treatment, reliable internet connectivity and reasonable electricity rates.
Investors, both small and large want access to capital, they want a corruption free investment climate, they want equal access to opportunities and they want to ensure that Guyana has a well prepared labour force from which they can staff their operations. Build it and they will come.
But investors must also come prepared to respect our environment and to exploit any opportunities in Guyana in a responsible manner.
A lack of priority on the issue of youth unemployment in Guyana has already resulted in effects which we can see daily in our communities as crime steadily increases and the very valuable resource of educated young people flee the country in droves. The consequences of these activities will be dire. An entire generation will be lost or grossly unprepared; a generation upon whom Guyana will depend to build the nation beyond the next 20 years. Neighbourhoods will be severely impacted as illegal activity, depression, alcoholism, teenage pregnancy, aids, drugs and crime take hold and increase. Those too poor to move will become trapped in a cycle of poverty and victimhood. Additionally, because there are more people willing to work than opportunities available, there will continue to be a downward pressure on wages and less happiness at work as citizens are forced to take “any” job in order to meet their survival needs. The government also loses as they lose out on corporate and personal income tax revenue from a substantial segment of the population.
The unemployment numbers report on health and based on the figures before us; we are not a healthy nation. The government of Guyana must make it a priority to determine, analyze, report and track the nation’s unemployment rate so that Guyana’s citizens can follow the progress as we take steps to make Guyana a healthier nation. Our citizens are ready for change, investors are looking for opportunity, and everyone has a role to play. Again, we must build the infrastructure and they will come.