General Elections : The Issues ( First Article)

We see them out there, engaged in something but apparently doing nothing.

We know they're out there, searching for something but seemingly finding nothing

We're sure they're existing, but equally certain they're barely living.

We know some are working, still they can't afford to live.

They're the nearly 30 per cent which the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) described as failing to achieve some acceptable material standard of living. They're the 12 per cent who barely keep their heads above water; they're the 74 per cent who are working but still can't find their way.

The CDB, in its Country Poverty Assessment Report of December 2010- and presented to the state minister in the ministry of foreign affairs, Alvin Bernard in February 2011- found that 28.8 per cent of Dominicans didn't earn enough for an acceptable standard of living. And, according to the regional financial institution, all it takes to be above the poverty level is EC$6,230 a year. Those earning slightly more and up to EC$7,788 a year are considered vulnerable. And the vulnerability rate was 11.5 per cent. Those earning EC$ 2,435 (EC$6.67 a day) or less are considered indigent – an extreme state of poverty or destitution. The average family, it said, needs EC$1,194 per month to spend on basic food and non-food items to escape poverty.

The report, Reducing Poverty in the Face of Vulnerability, looked at the poverty situation here in 2008/2009. It revealed that persons who participated in the survey frequently cited unemployment and lack of job opportunities as the main reasons they were poor. This was particularly noted by men who saw their inability to find work as a threat to their traditional role as provider, it said.

"The man must provide for his family but unemployment has made it difficult," the CDB quoted one person as saying.

The Bank blamed the country's failure to generate productive goods and services "at a level that is able to absorb its growing labour force" for "the entrapment" of many young people in poverty. It said that children (aged 0-14) and youth (15-24) account for 52.1 per cent of all poor individuals, while half of the Kalinago population (49.8 per cent) was poor.

According to the report – details of which have not been released by the government – there's "considerable disparity" among the parishes. For example, the parish of St. Joseph, which accounts for only 8.3 per cent of the country's population, has 13.5 per cent of the nation' poor. The parishes of St. Andrew (19.4 per cent), St Patrick (17.8 percent), St. David (13.6) and St. Joseph "all had disproportionately high levels of poor persons," it said.

Several of the parishes had extremely high levels of poverty. The parishes of St. Joseph (47.2 per cent), St. Paul (32.6), St. Patrick (42.7), St. David (40.4) St. Andrew (38.1) all had poverty levels that were above the national average. "St. Joseph, St. Patrick and St. David are among the poorest parishes in Dominica. The entire east of the island was poor – the parishes of St. Andrew, St. David and St. Patrick - had poverty levels at least 10 per cent higher than the national average," the CDB report stated.

The lending institution recommended access to employment as one avenue for escaping poverty. However, the study found that of those deemed to be poor, 74.1 per cent were employed, while 25.9 per cent were unemployed.

"The former represents the "working poor" in that the proceeds from their employment were unable to keep their households out of poverty," it said. "Thus, poverty reduction would require ensuring the kind of employment that can raise the employed poor out of poverty and reduce or eliminate unemployment among the poor."

The survey placed the unemployment rate at 14 per cent – it took into consideration all legal forms of earning wages – but said that 76 per cent of the unemployed were without jobs for as long as a year.

"Against the backdrop of what may appear to be an unemployment rate that is not alarming by Caribbean standards, there exists a major challenge in the labour market. Underemployment and poor quality employment and participation in informal sector activity have been the lot of many workers. This would translate to poverty and poor living conditions in Dominica," the CDB said.

The difficulties in finding formal employment has led both men and women to consider "participating in the underground economy" to make ends meet, the bank reported. Many poorer women have found themselves engaging in transactional sex or getting involved in the drug trade or other illegal activities in the quest to provide for their children, it said.

"You are a single mother, you have children. You don't have a job so you do some drugs to make a living," it quoted one person as saying.

The bank added that when the daughters are old enough, they have not problem relying on help from boyfriends, with the result that girls start to rely on transactional sex as a coping mechanism at an early age. As one person participating in the survey said, "…go and sell what God gave you to get money for the exam."