'A lot more Jamaicans going hungry' – CaPRI survey

JAMAICA'S minimum wage is too low to ensure families can live above the poverty level, the Caribbean Policy Research Institute (CaPRI) has found, with a lot more Jamaicans going hungry given the deprivations caused by the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The discovery was one of two “unexpected findings” emanating from CaPRI's recently launched report, Locked Down and Locked out: Vulnerable Communities during the Pandemic.

CaPRI's lead researcher Jennifer Jones, presenting the study, said minimum wage earners are several thousand dollars below the poverty line.

“Six years ago, the international poverty line was updated to US$190 per day; in Jamaican currency it would be US$1 to $150. Today's selling rate is actually $155. This is approximately $285 per person, per day or $8,550 per person per month.

“This means that a sole earner in a family of four should earn approximately $34,200, that is the poverty line,” Jones reasoned. Currently, Jamaican's minimum wage is $7,000 per week or $28,000 per month.

“What this means is that a family of four with the sole income earner taking home $28,000 per month would be below the poverty line unless there were other sources of income,” Jones said.

According to the CaPRI researcher, since the pandemic, “there is a lot more hunger out there”.

The entity said based on the survey of 1,500 persons in 13 urban and 11 rural communities across eight parishes who were selected based on the 2019 poverty map, only just over one in four individuals from these communities received any of the financial assistance doled out by the Government to help Jamaicans cope with the conditions brought on by the pandemic.

CaPRI said that individuals, in order to survive, turned to methods such as backyard gardening, budgeting, borrowing, and not paying utility bills.

Two out of five individuals said backyard agriculture was the means to an end while 12 per cent said they borrowed, but even that had its limitations as some persons had to reduce the number of meals eaten in any one day.

“Budgeting, buying only the essentials became a strategy, but when this did not work it was reducing meals to sometimes once per day. Adults and children then had to make do with snacks and tea or sugar and water for other meals. There is a lot more hunger out there,” Jones stated.

In the meantime, the researcher said 57 per cent of Jamaican households saw a reduction in income between March 2020, the onset of the pandemic, and September 2020, with half a million people receiving government financial aid.

She said the national unemployment rate rose from seven per cent in January 2020 to 12.6 per cent in June, but in the communities surveyed, the unemployment rate virtually doubled, moving from 20 per cent to 39 per cent.

“Those in full-time employment were hardest hit as 50 per cent were laid off. Other groups, especially the largest group of self- employed persons, were much less impacted, suggesting a high level of resilience in this sector.

“Remittances for half of the people getting them decreased or stopped. In these communities, two out of five persons received remittances, over a quarter or 27 per cent receive US$50 per month or less, whilst almost half received, monthly, between US$51 and US$100 monthly. The rest received more,” Jones said.

The CaPRI researchers also said whilst there was a 21 per cent increase in remittances nationally, for half of the recipients in these communities remittances either decreased or stopped after COVID-19, suggesting that their own relatives abroad are, like them, not high-income earners.

“Only 14 per cent from these communities saw an increase while approximately a third received the same as before. Most of whose remittances stopped were also in the category of those who were unemployed since the pandemic, so this would have pushed them further into poverty, possibly severe poverty. This would also apply to the near one in five of the disabled whose remittances also stopped,” she added.

CaPRI in its recommendations said the Government, in order to ensure that assistance gets to those targeted, should place greater reliance on local community experts and improved transmission of information about provisions while urging the use of community shops as the focal point to serve the community, among other things.

BY ALICIA DUNKLEY-WILLIS Observer senior reporter dunkleya@jamaicaobserver.com

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