Falling incomes send households spiralling
Miranda McCallum, operator of a variety shop in Bull Bay, St Andrew, has watched woefully as sales plunged amid the COVID-19 pandemic, driving down consumer confidence and pushing many small business owners over the edge.
“I sell from a pin to an anchor, but some of the customers I would usually get, I haven’t been getting them because they have no money or jobs,” said McCallum, one of scores of residents in southeastern Jamaica who were affected by flooding and landslides in October and November.
Despite pivoting from clothing and houseware to food and high-demand anti-coronavirus supplies of sanitiser and alcohol, revenues slid as customers grappled with survival.
“I couldn’t sell pure clothes during the pandemic and expect to sell,” she told The Gleaner.
The microcosm of McCallum’s evolving business is emblematic of the global crisis triggered by coronavirus containment measures that have wiped out at least 135,000 jobs locally, plunging families and businesses into a maelstrom of misery.
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is forecasting that for the first time in 30 years, the Human Development Index (HDI) will drop at regional and global levels. The consequences are many and the scale far-reaching.
“There will be a drop in income and, potentially, there could be a drop on the indicator of education, given the fact that this is a crisis that is significantly impacting human capital indicators,” regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean, Luis Felipe López-Calva, said during a regional embargoed media briefing on December 11.
The 2020 Human Development Report, released Tuesday, ranked Jamaica 101 out of 189 nations in the 2019 HDI, a metric assessing three dimensions of human development – life expectancy, education and standard of living.
The country ranked 96th out of 189 nations in the 2018 HDI, and in both years, the country was placed in the high human development category.
The 2020 report also introduced a new experimental index on human progress that takes into account countries’ carbon dioxide emissions and material footprint.
Jamaica’s HDI value stands at 0.734, while the planetary pressures-adjusted HDI (PHDI) value is 0.700.
“If a country puts no pressure on the planet, its PHDI and HDI would be equal, but the PHDI falls below the HDI as pressure rises,” a section of the report read.
Further, of the more than 60 very high human development countries in 2019, only 10 are still classified as very high human development on the PHDI.
This proves that no country in the world has yet achieved very high human development without putting immense strain on the planet, reflecting their dependence on fossil fuels and material footprint.
Director of the Human Development Report Office, Pedro Conceição, asserted that the COVID-19 pandemic will impact the social and economic dimensions of the 2030 agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals.
“There are estimates from our colleagues at the World Bank that income-based poverty may increase for the first time in many years by as many as 100 million people ... . Our own work on multidimensional poverty, which does not measure income poverty, but poverty in standards of living and in access to assets, suggests similar, if not worse, numbers,” he said.
Anthony Davis, 66, usually visits the doctor every three months, but since COVID-19 surfaced in Jamaica in March, he has only seen the doctor once.
“Mi nuh have the finances; that a di major problem,” he bemoaned.
A mason, Davis said that even before the pandemic, his income was “hand to mouth” as jobs dried up, especially for senior citizens. Unemployment in Jamaica has risen by more than 50 per cent since the record low of 7.2 per cent in 2019.
Davis is not a pensioner and his only child, who usually helped with meeting his daily needs, died in April.
Similarly, Desmond Wright, 57, a chef, has been residing in Weise Road for more than 20 years.
His income has been disrupted following the closure of the cook shop he operates at the entrance of the Bull Bay community.
Now, he depends on remittances from his two children abroad for sustenance.
“Every four, five months I get a check-up and ting, but I can’t see the doctor right now, no money to see the doctor,” Wright said.
López-Calva noted that Jamaica has been quite stable on the HDI as movement is mainly driven by income change.
“The main challenge will be to find the fiscal space. Jamaica has been traditionally and unfortunately structurally facing high levels of debt and limited fiscal space,” López-Calva said.
He said this situation is expected to worsen at the end of the pandemic and the country will require international support to recover from the financial shocks.
Meanwhile, Conceição told journalists that while the COVID-19 pandemic was the latest crisis facing the world, it would not be the last unless humans release their grip on nature.
In practical terms, while the world’s richest countries could experience up to 18 fewer days of extreme weather each year by the end of the century because of the climate crisis, the poorest nations could face up to 100 extra days of extreme weather.
“This is not inevitable; it boils down to choice,” he declared.
Conceição added that 100 days, for instance, could be cut by half if the Paris Agreement, a legally binding international treaty on climate change, is implemented.