Sun | Nov 17, 2019

Population pain - Expert warns of troubles ahead if migration trend continues without boom in births

Published:Wednesday | October 23, 2019 | 12:16 AMEdmond Campbell/Senior Parliamentary Reporter

Despite achieving a Vision 2030 target more than a decade early, instead of celebrating, policymakers are now downbeat that a tapering off of the population growth rate could land Jamaica in “serious problems”.

Members of Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) were told yesterday by technocrats from the Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ) that the country recorded zero population growth in 2017, a target that should not have been reached before 2030. Policymakers are now scrambling to alleviate the potential negative impact of hitting the target far too early.

“It was not a positive for us now,” Peisha Bryan-Lee, head of Vision 2030 Secretariat at the PIOJ, revealed yesterday at the committee meeting. “We targeted zero for 2030 … . It was a challenge,” said Bryan-Lee of the premature outcome.

They were discussing a performance audit by the Auditor General’s Department on Jamaica’s progress towards Vision 2030.

Achievement of a zero per cent growth rate is the first goal in the Population Sector Plan of Vision 2030 Jamaica. The comprehensive vision of the National Development Plan is intended to make Jamaica the place of choice to live, work, raise families, and do business.

The Economic and Social Survey Jamaica confirmed that with a natural increase of 15,300 and a net migration of 15,400 recorded for 2017, the annual growth rate for 2017 was zero per cent. This is the lowest growth rate Jamaica has recorded in the post-Independence period.

The current marginal decline in the country’s population should not be viewed as insignificant, suggested Easton Williams, senior director of population, social policy and planning at the PIOJ.

“This is just the tip of what will come,” he told The Gleaner, warning that Jamaica’s population rate could further decline “if the fertility levels go down and the migration levels remain high”.

According to Williams, he does not expect migration levels to fall, as there was demand for skilled and other forms of labour across the Caribbean and in the developed world.

“We also see people leave Jamaica and go to the Middle East and those oil-rich countries,” he said. “These patterns of movements will continue for quite a while.”

The social-policy expert indicated that Jamaica’s current average birth rate had declined to about 2.1 from a rate of 2.3 when the last reproductive survey was done in 2008. This, he said, was not an ideal number, considering the high level of migration.

While Jamaica currently still has a large population of working-age people, he said the country would reach a maximum working-age population before 2030, then experience a dip afterwards.

“We have been speaking about a demographic bonus that we have. We have a demographic bonus, of course, but it will not last forever. It will continue to decline after 2030 until we are in real serious problems in which we will have to find ways of getting people to work in the country,” he said.

To counter the trajectory, Williams said the Government might have to adopt incentive programmes similar to those implemented by European countries with grave population deficits.

edmond.campbell@gleanerjm.com