While the ruling Antigua Barbuda Labour Party (ABLP) and the opposition United Progressive Party (UPP) remain poles apart in their analysis of current unemployment figures, OBSERVER media took to the streets of St John’s to get the “voice of the people” on this issue.
On January 23, while presenting the 2020 Budget Speech, Prime Minister Gaston Browne told the nation that the current rate of unemployment at the end of 2019 stood at about 8 percent, which he said had been borne out by figures presented by the Antigua and Barbuda Social Security Scheme.
But during the Budget Debate yesterday, Leader of the Opposition, Jamale Pringle, continued his party’s harsh criticism of the 2020 budget by explaining that the number of individuals registered with Social Security should not be used as a gauge of unemployment.
“What he [Prime Minister Gaston Browne] did not say, Mr Speaker, is that the registration numbers are not the employment numbers, because any young person over the age of 16 can be registered with Social Security; it doesn’t mean that the person is employed or contributing,” Pringle said.
He told Parliament that the figures for the number of active contributors to the Social Security Scheme contradict the PM’s assertion that unemployment is on the decline.
“In 2017, the total number of active contributors, 37,960. As of the 31st of March 2018, it went down to 35,075 active contributors,” Pringle said.
He added that on March 31, 2019 “there was a total of 34,866” employed contributors to the scheme.
However, one passerby in St John’s, who spoke to this media house under the condition of anonymity, said that she believed the estimated number of individuals without work is higher.
“There are a lot of young who finish school and they are out of jobs. A lot of them have subjects and still no work,” the woman said.
Another resident explained that while there may be job opportunities, the offerings may not appeal to those who are unemployed.
“I think people have a perception of what type of job is for them, so they don’t go and do the job that is available,” she added.
And one young man said while many of his friends are employed, there are others who simply do not care about work.
“Some of my friends don’t do anything at all. They don’t look for a job. While I know that some of my friends have a lot of qualifications, they still have to settle for jobs that they don’t want, so it goes both ways,” he said.
During the Budget presentation, Prime Minister Gaston Browne said that data available from the Social Security Board, confirmed that the total number of registered employees has increased for the past six years.
He stated further that while the number of registered employees was 42,682 in 2018, the number climbed to 43,535 in 2019, while lauding his government for achieving an 8 per cent unemployment rate.
The rate of unemployment has long been a source of political contention with political parties often disagreeing on the actual figure.