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IMF unemployment stats tainted, says Gonsalves

IMF unemployment stats tainted, says Gonsalves

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A recent International Monetary Fund (IMF) report on St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) put the unemployment rate of persons in the age group 15 to 24 at 46 per cent.

But, Minister of Finance Camillo Gonsalves told SEARCHLIGHT recently that this youth unemployment statistic is tainted by several factors.

“There have been some numbers bandied about related to youth unemployment and those numbers are not official numbers and have not been sufficiently interrogated by the Government,” said Gonsalves.

He said unemployment in the country is between 18 and 20 per cent and that number is derived from the census, the labour market survey and data from the National Insurance Services (NIS).

The Finance Minister said the data on unemployment varies significantly from year to year.

“I don’t want to bash the Statistics Department in any way, because they do excellent work and the World Bank was coordinating [with them] in trying to get a picture of youth unemployment in SVG.

“The data that they have varies wildly from one year to another. Let us take youth unemployment out of it; if you look at the data for example, you will see that in one year to the next they would say that unemployment, let’s say in Colonarie or unemployment in Calliaqua changes by 10 to 15 per cent, which is not a realistic number when you think about the nature of our businesses and production and employment in SVG,” said Gonsalves.  

“Additionally, there are some questions that are still yet to be answered about the ages of the people who are considered as youth unemployed; the International Labour Organization (ILO) definition goes all the way down to people in their teens, whereas we consider people out of school,” Gonsalves commented.

He said during the collection of the statistics that the IMF looked at, there was an issue of what people were characterized as when they had just graduated from the St Vincent Community College, the University of the West Indies (UWI) or had come home for the holidays.

“Of course, there is a period of unemployment at that point before you find a job and based on when the study was done; some of those people were captured as unemployed and strictly speaking it was true, they were not working, and they were looking for jobs, but they had not yet been employed, because of the nature of the time by which they graduated,” explained Gonsalves.

He added, that additionally, at that point in time, nationally, seasonally employed persons, like people in the Grenadines and so on, who are employed during the tourist season, are unemployed in the off-season.

“I don’t want to speak definitively, because I am still interrogating on the types of questions that were asked and what category people were placed in; but the number that has been cited is not an official number; it is a number that is still under consideration and deliberation between our Statistics Department, the Ministry of Finance and some of the people who did the study,” said the Finance Minister.

He said there should be a realistic youth unemployment number when the current labour market survey, currently ongoing, is completed.

On December 15, 2017, the Executive Board of the IMF concluded the Article IV consultation with SVG. The IMF report stated that the unemployment rate is high, particularly for the youth, the less educated, and women, with the latter sharply increasing their labour market participation since 2001.

“The overall unemployment rate was 25 per cent and reached around 46 per cent among the youth (15-24 years of age). Unemployment was 20.9 and 21.5 per cent in 2001 and 2012, respectively”, said the report.

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