Our Killing Cost of Living
Expect a blue Christmas in 2021 as high prices and unemployment take their toll
There's a rather strong possibility that this will not be a very merry Christmas for Alisha*, with a likelihood that those near and dear to her will not receive any Christmas presents from her this year. Under normal circumstances, Alisha would purchase gifts for her mum, nephew, sister, and boyfriend. And this year she also planned to buy presents for her best friend's newborn, whom she treats as her own child.
But things are currently tough on the 30-year-old university graduate who earns little working at a local supermarket.
"The finances are not available to make shopping even if you want to; you can't purchase anything because it's [funds] not available," Alisha told The Sun matter-of-factly. "[I'll] probably purchase one [present] and not purchase two, or purchase none."
There are times when Madeline* would like to pay a visit to the hairdresser or the spa, but the mother-of-one is forced to choose between treating herself and feeding her baby.
"Sometimes I want to do a pedicure, you know, go get my feet looking nice or go get my hair done, but when I think about it, I can't because I can't use her milk money," the 32-year-old told The Sun, her frustration evident.
In fact, there are times she must choose between buying milk and purchasing nappies for the little girl, and often relatives abroad must come to her rescue by sending her cash or essentials.
"You have to rely so much on your family overseas for boxes or for money, and it shouldn't be like that," stated the young mother. "It shouldn't be like that."
The dilemma that these two face is representative of what a large percentage of the Dominican population must navigate daily. Among them is a messenger and father-of-three, who asked to be identified as John Doe, who is currently trying to figure out his Christmas shopping list.
"The needs of my kids are books and basically grocery items to keep them for the holidays," Doe told The Sun. "That I see as a challenge."
In a country of few employment opportunities and where the minimum wage is EC$8.00 an hour for security guards, but between $7.25 and $7.50 an hour for most categories of workers – juveniles and trainees are paid as little as $5.67 per hour, shop assistants earn $6.75 and home assistants between $200 and $250 depending on whether they also get meals or live-in – even those fortunate enough to have a job struggle to make ends meet.
Complicating matters is a steady rise in the cost of living since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, and more so, with the increase in the minimum wage which took effect on 1 September this year.
Julius Timothy, the proprietor of three ACS supermarkets in and near the capital, told The Sun that in the last six months prices have skyrocketed by an average of 25 per cent, which he blamed on escalating international freight prices.
"The freight from China has more than doubled and all international prices are up," revealed Timothy, who anticipated that Dominicans planning their holiday shopping could be in for a blue Christmas.
"There's nothing they can do about it; they'll have just to do what they can with what they have. There's not much," advised the local businessman. "It's difficult because unemployment is really high, and people don't really have much money."
Government has yet to publish up-to-date information on the cost-of-living index. The most recent information available on the statistical office's website was published in 2009 but reflects information from the 1997/1998 household expenditure survey of 1,000 homes across the ten parishes.
However, crowdsourced global databases of reported consumer prices, such as Expatistan, Numbeo and LivingCost.org, estimate that the monthly costs for a family of four here are in the region of EC$8,218 before rent is added. In fact, of the 197 countries ranked by LivingCost.org by quality and cost of living to find the 100 best places in the world to live and work for singles and families, Dominica ranks 148th, lower than most Caribbean countries with the exception of Grenada (150), Belize (156), and Haiti (166).
In a rambling presentation during his radio show on Sunday night, Roosevelt Skerrit, the prime minister, acknowledged the high cost of living, and promised an announcement this week, that could include adjustments to customs duties.
This is unlikely to appease people like Alisha, who, having graduated at the top of her criminal justice class last year, did not expect she'd be a virtual employed pauper.
"Basically, you would work and the money that you work for is just to pay your bills. Sometimes you can't even pay all of them . . . you don't even have money to treat yourself or anything extra," complained the young woman.
Alisha and Madeline told The Sun all they and their peers want are opportunities to find well-paying jobs that will enable them to live comfortably and not have to choose between providing basic needs for their families and feeding themselves.
"The economy should be running smooth, there should be jobs in the country, money should be flowing," stated an animated Madeline. "Everybody should be happy."
But unless these opportunities arise soon, Alisha plans to migrate, while Madeline has given up on the idea of having more children.
"How can you have more than one kid in this type of situation? The economy is not openly saying 'have more children,' it's not saying 'go ahead and multiply,' because multiply and what are you going to feed them? she asked. "Dominica is stagnant. We're not moving, we're just there."
*Names changed to protect identity