Up next: Increase income tax threshold
Earlier this week, the director general of the Statistical Institute of Jamaica (Statin) Carol Coy revealed that Jamaica recorded its lowest unemployment rate in the country’s history. It now stands at 4.5 per cent as at April 2023.
This is welcome news and something that ought to be celebrated. Therefore, I commend the Government and the country for this achievement.
I emphasise this commendation because in an era plagued with disinformation, misinformation, and negative news, good news is not often promoted. However, we should make the good news the news.
What currently obtains is that people, due to political or other biases, find it hard to accept positive news. If Statin had reported that the unemployment rate had doubled, we would have seen lots more people commenting on social media and possibly a few press releases from the civil society groups. Similarly, when the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) reports that major crimes have decreased, many people start to raise scepticisms and cast aspersions on the statistics. However, when the situation is reversed, people take delight in blaming the national security minister and the commissioner of police for the spike.
Both Prime Minister Andrew Holness and Finance Minister Dr Nigel Clarke have welcomed this historic improvement. With over 1.3 million people now employed in the country, Dr Clarke characterised it as a tremendous policy success. Prime Minister Holness said that this achievement speaks to the country’s economic stability. But Opposition spokesman on finance Julian Robinson, though acknowledging that “very low unemployment is good”, argued that “there are too many Jamaicans who fall into the category of working poor and who earn just enough to survive”. He also noted that the country remains entombed in a low-wage, low-tech, and low-growth model. Dr Clarke is in agreement with this view, noting that this unprecedented dip in unemployment “is not a panacea” because “times are still challenging”.
Now that the unemployment is at a record low, the next thing to do is to increase the taxable income threshold. Inflation continues to rise, though slightly, and many people are still living hand to mouth. In a Jamaica Observer letter to the editor, dated July 6, 2023, titled ‘We can’t breathe’, Clayon Warner argued that, “There are still those among us who have fancy job titles with little remuneration, and we can’t breathe, we need a break.” He was reacting to the hefty compensation increase given to the political directorate. He reminded the finance minister that, “It is important that you remain true to your word in reviewing the income tax threshold and give some of us some breathing room, at least to be better able to provide for our families and ourselves.”
Having taken away some of the allowances from public sector workers and integrated them in the gross salary, it means that statutory deductions have now increased. Therefore, it would be wise if the Government increased the current tax threshold from $1.5 million to even $2.5 million. This would certainly ease the burden of many of our young professionals and other workers who are among the worst paid.
The Government is probably contemplating this and other initiatives as part of their election campaign strategies, as some believe is the case with the Learning and Investment for Transformation (Lift) programme. However, if that is what will help to take the average citizen from “poverty to prosperity”, let’s get it done. Though it may be considered “government handout”, it is still the people’s money being given back to them. Make haste, Dr Clake!
Oneil Madden is interim chair/head of Department of Humanities and lecturer in language(s) and linguistics at Northern Caribbean University. He is also a PhD candidate in applied linguistics at Clermont Auvergne University, France. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or email@example.com.