We can all agree that Jamaica is an island nation that’s a popular tropical destination for tourists. It’s also home to nearly three million people that are struggling with poverty. Since this is an issue that did not arise overnight, it will not be solved overnight.

The good news is… there are initiatives that are helping the high unemployment rates in Jamaica and these are:

Jamaica and Poverty Statistics

Jamaica is considered by the World Bank to be an upper middle-income country. It has a GDP per capita that is roughly 1/20th of that of the United States and currently has just over 2.7 million living on the island full-time.

While it is considered an upper middle-income country, Jamaica has struggled with both unemployment and poverty since the 1970’s. For example, in the 1990’s, the Island had an unemployment rate of 15 percent and a poverty rate of 25 percent; currently, the unemployment and poverty rates stand at 14 and 16 percent. This is a problem, as Jamaica has been experiencing slow rates of economic growth in the past 30 years, with an average GDP growth rate set at below one percent annually.

Contributing Factors

One of the major factors contributing to poverty in Jamaica is the slow GDP growth rate.  in layman’s terms, the country is either not providing enough jobs or enough avenues to attain the education and training to get those jobs for its people. However, there are other factors that contribute to the poverty, many of which are being directly addressed by the government now.

Public education is not completely free in Jamaica; only the first six years of primary school education are considered free, although parents pay for this school with taxes. For secondary school, families must pay registration and “auxiliary” fees in order for students to attend school. These fees can be everything from uniforms and school supplies, including books and shoes, plus the “auxiliary” fee… a maintenance surcharge levied against the family.

Should a child’s family not be able to pay the fees, which in some parishes can cost upwards of $25,000USD, the student will not be able to complete their education. Considering that the cost of living in Jamaica stipulates that a family must pay nearly $500 for a 900 square foot unfurnished apartment, this amount can make sending a child to school impossible.

Another issue that faces Jamaica is the corruption and gang violence that has swept through the nation in recent years. Foreign investors, who previously had invested heavily into the island, have become hesitant to put their money in the country. Especially since the government is considered to be corrupt. Add to that the debt the country is currently trying to pay and it’s no wonder why foreign investment has ceased to seek opportunities here.

Jamaica is already taking steps to improve its economy and help its citizens out of poverty. In fact, in 2015 Doing Business ranking found that the nation had jumped 27 places. This was due to the government improving both its credit rating with creditors and decreasing the national debt. The improved ranking is a marker that foreign investors use to determine whether a country is a good choice for business.

Other improvements include the World Bank having a positive outlook going forward for Jamaica’s economy. The prediction is that the GDP growth rate in 2017 will be over two percent. The World Bank also has five projects within the island now that are providing temporary jobs for citizens as well as expanded educational opportunities.

But more can be done. Here are some current changes that Jamaica is currently implementing and will serve to reduce the poverty rate.

Changing Educational Fees

The Jamaica Gleaner reported a year ago that new fee guidelines for public schools were released by the Education Ministry. The fees, which were implemented into law under the Education Act and Regulations, has removed the auxiliary fees and capped the annual school fees for secondary school at between J$1,000 and J$5,000 for all parishes.

The law, which the educational system initially resisted, takes the burden off parents and absorbs the majority of the costs. Additionally, it requires that students who cannot afford the fees should still be allowed to attend school. After all, education should be paid for by taxes families pay.

Government-Supported Projects

The World Bank has continuously worked with Jamaica to provide assistance to the island. It pays off Jamaica’s debts and sorts out its corruption problems. Some of the ways it does this are by:

  • Offering nearly 400,000 Jamaicans social and health services through its Programme of Advancement Through Health and Education, known as PATH. This is a conditional cash transfer program that improves school attendance and allows children in impoverished households to get regular health checkups.
  • Implementing the Rural Economic Development Initiative, helping agricultural and tourism businesses chances to expand their infrastructure and management support
  • Starting the Early Childhood Development Project, which tracks the growth of a child’s educational path
  • Also launching the Jamaica Integrated Community Development Project. The project improves the safety and development in rural and inner city neighborhoods who need help.

The entirety of the World Bank’s programs can be found here.

Choosing to Pursue Virtual Career Options

Jamaican workers will benefit from virtual careers. This includes virtual start-ups, web and app development, and even digital nomad jobs, such as freelance writing and photography. To this end, a program, known as Digital Jam 2.0, has been introduced to the nation.

The program, which has been in effect since 2013, has helped around 4,400 young Jamaicans learn more about computer science and virtual careers. Workers receive mentoring from major virtual companies, such as Microsoft Jamaica and MobileWorks. They also stand a chance to be educated at the university level in America, and internships at telecommunication companies that are headquartered in the Caribbean.

As the program grows, more foreign investors have expressed interest in participating in providing jobs for Jamaicans. Although there is still more work to be done, this is a great start to bring virtual careers, such as e-lancing, to the island.

Jamaica has a long way to go to reduce its unemployment and poverty rates, but it’s not an impossible task. With discussion among the government and citizens, a consensus can be reached about how best to proceed with existing initiatives. It’s unforeseen what the poverty rate, unemployment rate, and GDP growth rate will be in a year’s time. However, any improvement at all will be an accomplishment.

What are your thoughts? Leave your comments below.

Staff Writer

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