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2003-02-03 16:46:34

Slow Economy Hurting Many

PM senses impatience among people who expected his administration to act quicker.

Many people who say they had a difficult time making ends meet even when the economy was in an upswing are finding it especially challenging to earn a living now that economic activity is weak.

It's one of the pressing challenges facing the government of Prime Minister Perry Christie who admitted this week that he senses a level of impatience among some people who expected his administration to act quicker on providing promised jobs.

"I must be the one to absorb the impatience and be encouraging to people," Mr. Christie said in an interview with the Bahama Journal.

The prime minister is banking on a number of investment projects he recently outlined. But with a war looming in the Middle East, those plans could be put on hold.

For some Bahamians in Over-the-Hill communities, and in other areas of the Bahamas, it's hard to be patient.

"We need a chance to make a living," said Tim Saunders, a part-time painter who lives on Step Street, Fox Hill. Mr. Saunders was standing on that corner Thursday, chatting with the Bahama Journal about his financial challenges.

He said he is not living comfortably and the government needs to place a greater focus on job creation.

The demand for jobs is one that the prime minister would argue he is already working aggressively to fill. When he delivered the keynote address wrapping up his party's national convention in November, he promised to deliver 5,000 jobs. But he also said this week that there was the potential that war prospects would slow down some of his government's plans.

For those jobs that are available, people like Mr. Saunders say they are having a difficult time securing them.

"We need help finding jobs," Mr. Saunders said. "Things [are] bad man. I could [have made] at least $90 [per] day, but now I can't get even $30 [per] day."

While life is difficult, he said he "gets by," single mothers with limited job qualifications are among those who find it especially difficult to make ends meet.

Amanda Johnson, a single mother, also a Fox Hill resident, said she was frustrated in her hunt for a job.

"Even if you have BGCSE [certificates] you can't get a job because they are giving jobs to who they know," Ms. Johnson said. "I really want to work, but even if I go to look for a job I know I may not get it because of things I don't have, but I know I'm capable of doing the work." Others like Vincent Thomas, an elderly bus driver, said he also gets by on the little he has.

"I wouldn't say [conditions] are comfortable, but I'm trying my best to survive," Mr. Thomas said.

Budgeting the little he earns is especially important in slow economic times, he said.

Others, who consider themselves in the lower middle class, say they are getting by just fine.

Bursell Butler, a retired tailor who lives on Prison Lane, off East Street, is one of those people.

"I'm doing alright," he told the Bahama Journal.

While the government is concerned about those people who are not as fortunate, the Minister of Social Services and Community Development Melanie Griffin said authorities do not want to create a welfare state.

"We need to change the whole mindset of our people with regard to dependency on the government and dependency on social services," Minister Griffin said.

She said her ministry is committed to addressing the various factors impacting upon the standard of living of Bahamians.

Mrs. Griffin said because the Farm Road initiative in which several government agencies addressed a variety of social ills affecting residents of the community was "very successful", the decision has been made to expand the programme to other areas.

She said representatives from the Ministry of Social Services will coordinate efforts with the Department of Labour to assist unemployed persons in those areas in finding work.

In addition to assisting residents in locating jobs, ministry officials are also helping the needy find food, better housing and additional educational opportunities.

Recent figures on poverty and unemployment are hard to come by in the Bahamas.

A living conditions survey initiated under the Free National Movement Government has not been completed. Officials at the department of statistics do not have recent unemployment figures available, although Central Bank Governor Julian Francis guessed that unemployment is probably somewhere between eight and nine percent.

By Darrin Culmer, The Bahama Journal

 
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