"Believe it; it is tough all around the globe right now." That was my parting shot last Thursday to a sizeable and zestful group of young adults, who are members of a church group. They had invited me to be part of a panel discussion: "Do we stay or go?" Their focus was succinct.
I had anticipated that I would run into two prevalent viewpoints. First, the grass is always greener elsewhere. Second, consequential change happens through a process of declaration. My hunch proved right on the button. My inklings were not based on rocket science. I was a youngster once. Basic human nature is the same.
On the matter of basic human nature, let me declare off the bat that I fully understand that man is a migratory creature. That has been the case since time immemorial. I suspect man will remain that way as long as we occupy this mortal coil.
I have no beef with Jamaicans who legally leave our shores to better themselves. As a country we have to create, faster, much faster, conditions and opportunities that will dissolve the awful realities which, in effect, force too many, far too many, to go.
Information is key
A foreign country, or 'farin' as we say in local parlance, is often equated with easy street. That viewpoint was certainly very pronounced among many of the attendees last Thursday. They are not unique. Hundreds of Jamaicans genuinely believe the grass is always greener on the other side. Why? The reasons are varied, but generally stem from Hollywood depictions, misrepresentations by cable television, inaccurate and incomplete second-hand information, default positioning, and a conspicuous lack of factual and up-to-date information on what is happening in the global economy.
Here are bits of factual information which I shared with the gathering last Thursday. I share them here because I believe that up-to-date and verifiable information are the nuclei of good decision-making.
Again, I am not telling anyone they should not make good use of viable opportunities in foreign lands. Travelling and working in other countries can be very positive. Experiences abroad can, among other things, boost perspectives and broaden pockets.
Anyways, how many among us remember this?
"The World Bank has slashed its global economic growth forecast.
"It says 70 per cent of developing and emerging economies are facing economic recession as they are particularly vulnerable to the looming economic slowdown having racked up higher public debt during the pandemic.
"The World Bank, in its latest report, is slashing its growth projection from 4.1 per cent down to 2.9 per cent. There's very little expectation for this to improve before 2024.
"While the world continues to grapple with the effects of the [novel coronavirus] pandemic, it's now being faced with mounting fiscal pressures.
"The war in Ukraine, which has now gone beyond 100 days, rages on.
"The consequent surge in commodity prices has now been coupled with further lockdowns in China and more disruptions to global supply chains.
"World Bank President David Malpass is warning that recession will be difficult to avoid by many countries.
"However, Jamaica is among the exceptions.
"The multilateral is projecting the local economy will grow by 3.2 per cent this year.
"Jamaica is likely to avoid slipping into recession due to its debt management efforts." (Nationwide News Network, June 8, 2022)
These forecasts are not false alarms.
Several noted economists and financial analysts are predicting that Britain, one of our major trading partners, will soon be on the doorstep of economic recession. Why? Mainly because of high inflation, especially over the last 18 months, and rising interest rates.
This is having a hugely negative impact on their property market. Why? Some sources say just about 60 per cent of eligible adults in Britain own their homes. The prices of homes are falling rapidly. You don't need to be an economist to figure what that means for people's investments.
Added are the severely negative repercussions of Brexit which is an abbreviation of two words: 'Britain' and 'exit' and refers to the withdrawal process of the United Kingdom from the European Union which took place is 2016. A major repercussion of Brexit is that all the goods imported from Britain's European neighbours are taxed. This means the price of nearly everything in the UK has skyrocketed. Incomes for most workers have not.
Consider this: "The UK's government debt is projected to reach 100.6 per cent of the country's GDP [gross domestic product] in 2022-23 fiscal year." (Office for Budget Responsibility, UK)
I have several friends and relatives in the UK. Some are set up in what are considered good-paying jobs. They tell me things are extremely tough there now. They also tell me that many basic public services are under severe stress. Many physical infrastructural challenges abound, they tell me.
Consider this headline from the UK's The Guardian of September 3, 2023: 'Crumbling England, from schools to hospitals, how bad is the current crisis?' Similar headlines can be found in other major British newspapers. Some newspapers are reporting, too, that several city councils — the local bodies which pay for public services — are on the brink of declaring bankruptcy.
The beast of inflation
The Netherlands is in recession. Germany is also in recession. Why? In the main, the culprit is high inflation over the last 2½ years. Recall the mentioned forecast of former World Bank President David Malpass regarding the rough beast of inflation. Sources such as the globally respected The Economist, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and Forbes Magazine, generally agree that between 25 to 31 countries globally are at risk of recession. Germany, Italy, and France, noted economists say, are at serious risk of recession due to the double-edged sword of inflation and the deleterious impact of Russia's invasion of the Ukraine.
Here at home
Recently, Bank of Jamaica Governor Richard Byles sounded the alarm of high inflation. Byles got a severe backlash. Why? I believe adverse reactions came about for two primary reasons. First, folks have not been educated sufficiently on the deadly impact of inflation on their lives. Second, Byles said the right thing, his warnings, but tone and manner were injudicious.
Today, due to the good work of an independent Bank of Jamaica (BOJ), implemented by the Andrew Holness-led Administration, inflation has come down to 6.6 per cent in July 2023, according to BOJ figures.
Those like Opposition Leader Mark Golding who continue to clamour for a spending spree, should be resisted with every democratic sinew. We only need to look at what has happened to Sri Lanka to realise the crippling effect of hyper-inflation on the poor. Jamaica would be foolhardy to return to the days, for example, when our inflation rate skyrocketed. Inflation averaged 27.2 per cent per annum over the period 1990-1999, according to BOJ figures.
Better in the Maple Leaf
Consider this: "The Canadian economy is gradually slowing toward potential and inflation is declining, although the still-strong labour market and renewed housing pressures underscore the importance of the Bank of Canada's restrictive stance and of maintaining a data-dependent posture."
This snippet from a June 2023 report by International Monetary Fund (IMF), on Canada, another of our major trading partners, indicates that — compared certainly to Britain — economic conditions are much more viable.
This does not mean that all is hunky-dory in the Land of the Maple Leaf. The soaring cost of Canadian homes has been a hot topic recently, as many prospective homebuyers are struggling to afford even modest dwellings.
Consider this from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), May 15, 2023: "Average Canadian house price rose to $716,000 in April — up by $100K since January."
Some of my readers, doubtless, will chime in and say, 'Well, it is not what things cost that is critical, it is more so how much one is earning.' I get that!
In Canada, according to the Canadian Statistics Office, the average salary in 2023 is CDN$35.33 per hour (US$26). That is, before taxes, a local employee earns about CDN$1,212.58 per week, CDN$5,255 per month, and CDN$63,060 per year.
Canadian workers' income is highly dependent on education, skill level, experience, occupation, employer, and the province in which they work and live.
Several credible Canadian-based sources posit that between CDN$75,000 and CDN$95,000 per year is needed for an average family of four to live relatively comfortably depending on the province. As the Americans say, you can do the maths.
Prior to sharing with the gathering last Thursday I spoke with a friend of mine who has lived in Canada for 31 years. He told me many Jamaicans make the big mistake of translating hard currencies into Jamaican dollars and using that as an index of how well they will live.
"Be prepared to initially do a second job. That is a usual part of the transition" he said.
The land of opportunity
Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Gwendolyn Brooks said: "Truth tellers are not always palatable. There is a preference for candy bars."
There is overwhelming objective evidence that candy bars are not good for one's health. Some among us, though, would like us to eat candy bars for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Life-altering decisions must be rooted in facts. The fact is thousands of people living in developed countries are finding it immensely difficult to make ends meet and many are dirt poor.
Check this: Between higher costs and a possible recession on the horizon, families feel increasingly strained financially. More than half, or 58 per cent, of all Americans are now living pay cheque to pay cheque, according to the CNBC Your Money Financial Confidence Survey, conducted in partnership with Momentive.
And even more — roughly 70 per cent — said they feel stressed about their finances, mostly due to inflation, economic uncertainty, and rising interest rates, the survey found.
"Whether or not you have significant wealth, everyone is feeling squeezed," said Misi Simms, portfolio manager at TIAA, a Fortune 100 financial services company." (CNBC, April 11, 2023)
Thousands of people living in rich countries cannot read and write.
Consider this, "According to the US Department of Education, 54 per cent of US adults, 16-74 years old — about 130 million people — lack proficiency in literacy, reading below the equivalent of a sixth-grade level."
The Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) in the USA on June 11, 2019 noted, among other things: "In the US, 36 million adults lack the basic literacy skills needed to sustain employment, yet education programmes for this group serve only about 1.5 million, and funding continues to be cut at state and federal levels."
Fedrick Ingram, secretary-treasurer of the 1.7-million member American Federation of Teachers (AFT), speaking at the recent annual Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA) conference noted, among other things: "In the midst of a teaching shortage, find your purpose. Find your purpose in this beautiful country, find your purpose in the schools of your homeland.
"Sometimes I have to remind people that everything's not greener on the other side. I'm very proud of my country but know what it is to go to America today in our public schools. Be forewarned, it's not easy. It is not easy, and so I want to remind you to find your purpose." (Jamaica Observer, August 22, 2023)
The truth is the global economy is still recovering from the recent pandemic. Many countries, both developed and developing, are still struggling with the huge aftershocks of the "worst pandemic in the last 100 years".
Jamaica's good management of the pandemic and her economy simultaneously has been praised globally. That counts for a lot.
The truth is generational-type improvements do not happen via the waving of a magic wand. Change does not typically come about by simply declaring it. Seismic shifts often require back-breaking work and diligent application of resources of several types.
Those who believe the grass is greener everywhere, and anywhere but Jamaica need to check the facts. It is not!