With an unemployment rate of 3.5% as at Fall 2019 according to the government’s Economics and Statistics Office(ESO), the Cayman Islands was heading toward an even more enviable employment rate, compared to the rest of the Caribbean and elsewhere.
Things were indeed looking further up. And then COVID-19 came and now threatens record unemployment levels. Such are the vicissitudes of life.
One recalls the presentation of the 2020/2021 budget when Hon. Premier Alden McLaughlin, reporting on his government’s stewardship of the economy, updated on the status of Caymanian employment:
“Caymanian unemployment has fallen from a peak of 10.5% immediately prior to us coming into office in 2013 and has now been pegged at 4.8% in the most recent labour force survey,” he stated.
He reminded then: “There are now 3,300 more Caymanians in employment than there were six and a half years ago.”
And in an attempt at prescience, added: “There is every reason to be confident that this track record of success will be maintained through to the end of this term.”
Indeed there was.
But might have there been a hint of tempting fate?
Perhaps not. The groundwork had indeed been laid to continue the upward trajectory in jobs growth. The big challenge was to ensure that ‘jobs-for-Caymanians’ grew in parallel especially in the upper echelons of the jobs market.
After all, the government’s jobs portal had been given a major revamp and WORC (Work Opportunities and Residency Cayman) was getting to work.
But WORC now faces it’s biggest challenges in its short lifespan; challenges both internal and external.
COVID-19 came along, derailed the government’s best laid plans, and forced the Hon. Finance Minister Roy McTaggart to point out the “stark reality” of the economic crisis facing the Caymanian community and what it meant for jobs locally.
As reported by Caymanian Times on May 28th:
“In the best-case scenario, with the domestic economy reopening fully by July and some tourists returning by October, McTaggart said Cayman’s GDP would contract by 11.4% and nearly 9,000 jobs would be displaced, based on data from the Economics and Statistics Office.
He said 2,772 of those jobs were projected to be held by Caymanians.
That projection is based on tourism returning at 20% of its normal level for the last quarter of the year.
If that doesn’t happen, McTaggart said the analysis showed a GDP drop of 12.2%, with nearly 10,000 jobs lost, including nearly 3,000 Caymanian employees.
“It is disheartening to share that with you but this is the stark reality,” he said.
McTaggart highlighted a range of measures that government is implementing, including loans to small businesses, that he believes could cut that impact to such an extent that the GDP drop could be cut to 7.3%, saving about 1,470 jobs, including around 680 Caymanian posts.
Since then the outlook has taken on a glimmer of hope with the severe lockdown under which that pronouncement made now significantly rolled back.
Cayman has progressed up the ladder out of the five-stage lockdown to Level 2 (Minimum Suppression).
The next step is the All Clear. When that will happen is not quite clear as Level 2 only took effect on June 22nd and will be in place initially until August 2nd.
In the interim, the focus is on getting businesses back to doing what they do best, and the government making the best effort into getting Caymanians back into work.
There are no hard statistics yet published on the actual current unemployment rate, but a safe guess would put it at least twice what is was before COVID-19.
Looking back at the fall 2019 ESO report and the projections of the Premier in the November 2019 budget statement, this amounts to a major reversal of fortunes.
Cayman can take some comfort in the fact that it’s not the only one, but that’s only mildly reassuring as the territory’s main sources of tourism, business links and import supply lines are fighting the same battle.
A Government’s role is to create the environment for Businesses to flourish and in so doing provide employment. Attempts that stifle growth and restrict operations will only worsen a bad employment situation.
Navigating the way out of this storm will take skills equal to Caymans past mariners.
And that gives hope because they were of world renown.
We invite our readers and contributors to share their thoughts on this topic as the time is of essence and some of the best ideas come from those sitting outside the box.