The unemployment statistics are staggering; almost twenty-five percent of the adult population is without jobs. That dismal figure has contributed to a high poverty rate peaking at forty-three percent. It is contributing to the uncontrollable crime wave as well as other social ills. News Five’s Isani Cayetano takes a look at how families are coping with the strain of unemployment.
Isani Cayetano, Reporting
Unemployment, according to statistics released following the 2010 census, is currently at twenty-three percent of our population, the equivalent of roughly thirty thousand men and women who are today without a job. Despite government’s continued efforts to create employment opportunities quite a number of Belizeans remain out of work. Meet Elton Gordon, a thirty-two year old father of four. He resides on Rivero Street Extension along with his common-law wife and two children. Elton has been unwaged for the past five years.
Elton Gordon, Unemployed
“All I want da wah job. I got my house weh I need fu repair. I got four kids, two outside and two inside and I nuh know how my kids dehn di eat outside. Since 2006 I get laid off and I neva get [back] wah job.”
He, like his neighbors Mark Sacasa and Jacqueline Young, is a member of the Kraal Road community. It is a crime-ridden area that has seen the rise and fall of several notorious figures over the years. Mark, out of desperation for a job, was part of the recent gang truce that was brokered in early September.
Mark Sacasa, Unemployed
“Because I was so interested I also went with the leader of [the] Kraal Road [Crips] to the meetings to show an interest in being employed as part of the Kraal Road program. At the end of the day my name was put on the list and I wasn’t even told about a date, a time and a place but at the end of the day I got information that it was about to start tomorrow. Where? When? I don’t know.”
Jacqueline, a single parent who also lives on the fringes of Queens Square and Port Loyola, has been unemployed for the better part of her adult life. To earn a living she does hair braiding occasionally.
Jacqueline Young, Unemployed
“I have three kids so I wahn know why Boots Martinez nuh wahn give me wah job yes. Me and he gaan through wah lee misundastanding but I noh think that should get between me, the job and whateva me and he have. I need wah job.”
Together they share a common disappointment. They had each been promised meaningful occupation by two of the most influential ministers in Cabinet. For them, even though they have sought employment elsewhere, it is a dream deferred.
“I always di go da CYDP through the bee program and the tilapia program and dehn say when di program come to wah end dehn wah give we wah job and we still end up without wah job from CYDP. We go to Youth for the Future and dehn say nothing noh di go ahn deh. Yo go da Boots Martinez [and] he tell yo yo haffi go da yo area representative. Yo go and yo try go meet [with them], my area representative Mr. Dean Barrow, our prime minister, and yo cyant si he how yo want.”
In the prime minister’s Independence Day address a few weeks ago he lauded the Southside Poverty Alleviation program, an initiative overseen primarily by Port Loyola Area Representative Anthony ‘Boots’ Martinez.
Dean Barrow [File: September 21st, 2011]
“One project that is an ideal mix of physical improvement and social and community development is the Belize City Southside Poverty Alleviation program. The loan agreement for Phase 2 has already been signed, and construction of dwellings under the 4.2 million dollars housing component of the project, starts in the next three weeks. Individual contractors are expected to do a lot of their hiring in the neighborhoods; and once in full swing, Phase 2 will also result in direct Government employment of around 300 persons. These new jobs will be an addition to the 486 that have already been given through CYDP and Government’s Urban Rejuvenation project. For us in this Administration the language of the poor is never unheard.”
Around here the living condition is squalid. On the steps of Elton’s two storey wooden home is a rain-soaked mattress. The overnight shower, despite him having tacked sheets of zinc to replace the rotting walls, has gotten the best of the furniture inside. Elton is frustrated and emotionally spent.
“What is a day in your life like as a father who is currently unemployed? What do you do when you wake up in the morning? What do you do throughout the course of the day and before you go to bed at night?”
“Well I think. I think hard. I pray to God that, you know, one day will be better mein, [that] one day wah get betta fu me, you know, because ih really haad boss. Because ih really haad mein. I noh wahn go commit no crime big man. I noh wahn go commit no crime. I da noh no criminal boss and that da di intention dehn people wahn yo go do. Some ah di times my kids dehn hungry, yo si mi and [I] haffu try haad fu give dehn food fi eat. Last time my daughter said ih wahn something fi eat and I noh got no money. I haffu wait ‘til my gyal come home fu buy something fi ahn and I feel bad. I feel weak, weak.”
According to Jacky, the only jobs being made available in the neighborhood are reserved for those involved in the truce.
“Di job deh eena di area and my kids dehn go da school right eena di area so I mih say well I mi wahn wah lee ends eena di job too because dah right eena di area and dehn say da fu gang bangers. So weh I haffu do now? I haffu either gangbang or weh I need fu do? I need fi go jack somebody fu say I di gangbang fu get wah job?”
Nearby Sacasa is negotiating his vehicle along the unpaved street, through a pothole that has now become a massive crater. He is driving without his necessary documents but is willing to take the risk to keep his hustle going.
“Right now I need fi eat and I need fi pay my maintenance bill right now as yo di talk and I noh want no handout because dehn handout noh di cut it because at the end a next month wah next bill wah come pan top a dat. If yo di hands out to me and I noh di work [then] how ah wa pay mi bill? I need fi pay that mein I da first wah priority.”
Indeed, PM Barrow has equally attested that completely reversing the unemployment rate is also a distant dream.
“We won’t any time soon have full employment in our country. But it is an aspiration of which we shall not let go. And we don’t forget either that many of those that do have jobs, are very often paid minimum wage. We have a duty to them also, as they struggle to make ends meet.”
Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.
The highest unemployment rate is in the Stann Creek District and in respect of gender twenty percent are women and eight percent are men.