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Impact of COVID-19 on Poverty in JamaicaThe COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated poverty rates in countries all over the world, including Jamaica, one of North America’s poorest countries. An island country with a shrinking economy and high poverty rates, the impact of COVID-19 impact on poverty in Jamaica is still alive three years after the declaration of the first public health emergencies. On the other hand, the nation also showed signs of substantial progress in its recovery efforts.

COVID’s Impact on Poverty in Jamaica

Historically, Jamaica has always grappled with high poverty rates, with rates declining in recent years. However, poverty rates have increased since the start of the pandemic, completely unraveling years’ worth of work and successful efforts to combat this crisis. According to the World Bank, Jamaica’s poverty rate increased from 19% to roughly 23% in 2020. Some residents who were beginning to make ends meet in the years preceding the initial outbreaks fell below the poverty line as a result of the pandemic. Many residents are still lacking access to resources such as reliable housing and clean drinking water. Around 150,000 Jamaicans lost their jobs during the pandemic, with re-creation and rebound well underway.

COVID’s Impact on the Jamaican Economy

While enduring aftereffects less severe than some of its neighboring islands, Jamaicans are still reeling from the pandemic’s impact on the economy. The Jamaican economy has experienced its greatest contraction in history as a result of the pandemic. It has struggled to rebound since the post-pandemic era and since the distribution of vaccines and other treatment resources, undoing years’ worth of efforts to promote economic stability and fiscal responsibility.

To remain prosperous and stable, the economy relies heavily on the tourism industry, including hotels and resorts, restaurants and entertainment venues. Overall, the industry accounts for roughly 70% of the country’s GDP. However, travel restrictions from other nations adversely affected the country’s economic climate, with the economy shrinking by 5% and GDP declining by roughly 10% in 2020. As Jamaican air and sea borders prohibited the entry of international travelers, the industry began to destabilize, along with the nation’s economy. Workers in the tourism industry were forced out of their jobs as countries restricted travel and demand for their services declined. According to the Ministry of Tourism, at least 50,000 employees within the industry subsequently got laid off.

Aid and Assistance

The Jamaican government has initiated several programs and efforts to aid residents reeling from COVID’s impact on poverty in Jamaica. One of these is the COVID-19 Allocation of Resources for Employees Program, an initiative that provides cash transfers to members of the population who are the most vulnerable. About 500,000 received aid from this program, including those who lost their jobs due to the pandemic. The program provides an automatic grant of $18,000 to all who received the most recent SET Cash Grant and are unemployed as of Sept. 30, 2021.

Similarly, the Supporting Employees with Transfer of Cash program provides cash transfers to Jamaicans, after verification, who have lost their jobs on or after March 10, 2020. In 2021, the World Bank provided Jamaica with $150 million to contribute to its recovery and rebound from the pandemic. Ozan Sevimli, World Bank representative for Jamaica and Guyana, states, “The operation supports the expansion of the country’s social protection programs to benefit women and men disproportionately affected by the crisis and introduces a social pension for the elderly. It also supports measures for the recovery of affected businesses.”

Jamaica also received aid in receiving and distributing vaccinations to its citizens through COVAX, a worldwide initiative that comprises multiple health agencies working toward equitable distribution of vaccines to the population.

Recovery and Rebound

Despite being slower than most of its neighboring nations, Jamaica has made substantial progress in its post-pandemic recovery efforts. Data from the Planning Institute of Jamaica shows Jamaica surpassed pre-COVID-19 levels of economic growth and recorded its highest level of employment, with 1,269,300 citizens holding a job. In July 2022, Jamaica recorded its unemployment rate at 6.6%, lower than pre-pandemic levels. In addition, the nation’s tourism industry has almost completely rebounded. According to Edmund Bartlett, Jamaica’s Minister of Tourism, the industry has recovered by 90%. He also looked to 2022 as a “true year of recovery.” At a celebration of the country’s 60th anniversary of independence, he proclaimed, “We expect to close 2022 having welcomed a total of 3.2 million visitors contributing more than $3 billion to our economy.” Considering the post-pandemic trends. Jamaica looks to be on its way to a more prosperous future.

– Nicholas DeLuca
Photo: Flickr