Belize: The Economic Status and Prospects For The Youth
Posted: Wednesday, August 24, 2016. 11:41 a.m. CST.
By Richard Harrison: The July 2014 estimate of the Belize population was 340,844.
56.3% of the population was 24 years of age or younger. 97,912 were males and 94,093 were females.
21% of the population was between 15 and 24 years of age. 36,432 were males and 35,093 were females, for a total of 71,525.
The unemployment rate for the youth population, those between 15-24 years, was estimated at 22%, which would suggest that 15,736 were unemployed and 55,790 were employed.
My own estimate of youth unemployment is closer to 40%, which would suggest 28,610 unemployed and 42,915 employed.
If those employed earn an average of BZ$150 per week….then the total earned by the youth population in 2014 was BZ$334,737,000.
If those employed paid BZ$13.50 per week in social security contributions, this totals BZ$30,126,330 for 2014.
If the youth population saves 5% of income earned, this would total BZ$16,736,850 for 2014.
If they invest 5% of income earned, this would total BZ$16,736,850.
This would mean that they consume BZ$301,263,300…..a significant contribution to the general economy….with an estimated BZ$18.8 million contribution to General Sales Tax.
If youth population grew at the same rate of the general population at 2% per annum, the youth population in 2016 would amount to 74,415.
Still….the youth of Belize are currently living from hand to mouth.
BELIZE YOUTH CAN AND SHOULD ENJOY A BETTER STANDARD OF LIVING. HOW CAN THIS BE ACHIEVED?
i. If unemployed youth were reduced to 30%, the unemployed in 2016 would amount to 22,324 and the employed would be 52,091. This requires the creation of 9,176 new youth oriented jobs….in tourism (15%), natural resources management/forestry (15%), information technology/services (20%), agri-business/manufacturing/distribution (20%), mining/construction (20%) and entrepreneurship (10%). Public policy in fiscal and judicial reform, which I have discussed elsewhere, is vital to achieving this objective.
ii. If minimum wage were increased to BZ$4.00 per hour, the minimum weekly income per youth would be BZ$180….with youth grossing a total of BZ$487,571,760….making social security contributions of BZ$36,567,882……saving BZ$24,378,588 and investing BZ$24,378,588….and consuming BZ$438,814, 584. A 5% forced-saving system should accompany the raise in minimum wage, with 20% of this fund made accessible to youth entrepreneurs at 6.25% p.a. interest….and the rest made available to youth for education, land purchases and housing construction. Organize and allow the youth to invest more in themselves through private investment vehicles.
iii. The social development department should create an arm solely dedicated to youth development….to improve youth morals and values (especially in the work place), to promote development of youth support organizations (especially in pooling and development of financial resources), to increase productivity, to reduce alcohol and drugs consumption, to choose healthier and less costly diets while reducing obesity, to reduce teen-pregnancy and single-parent living on top of parents, to reduce transportation and education costs, and to improve the self-esteem of the youth, especially the males….nothing short of a youthful economic revolution.
iv. A debt-for-education swap should be central to this revved up engine for youth development…..to the tune of US$300 million over ten years. The best minds of Belize (multi-partisan in composition) should be organized to prepare the plans, to sell it internationally to friendly governments and to implement it in the most effective and efficient manner. The government budget for the University of Belize should be doubled immediately using our own resources, and invested in improving the quality and standards of education, so that this institution becomes the regional undergraduate beacon for education in information technology, management, tropical agriculture/agri-business/forestry/fisheries, nursing/medical technology/pharmacy, criminal justice/court reporting/legal assistants, teachers education and light engineering with focus on plumbing, architecture, electrical, wood work (especially exotic furniture and gift-items design and commercial production), and production of construction materials using local materials (especially clay and limestone). All Belizeans with high school grade-point-average over 85% should be afforded a 50% scholarship automatically….which covers tuition, books and a monthly living-expenses stipend. The population of the university will grow to over 10,000 in short time, with the best minds of Belize attending; along with international students from countries that invest in the debt-for-education swap, and increasing the amount of students from countries with whom Belize has education-exchange and scholarship arrangements.
v. A debt-for-nature swap of US$200 million over ten years should also be intensely pursued….to increase our capacity and capability to manage our natural resources, especially those that are resource rich and threatened by encroachment. A complete minerals survey, biomass survey, bio-genetic stock survey, water survey and land utilization survey along with development plans to sustainably harness and/or conserve them would be beneficial to Belize and all its development and trade partners. A BZ$6 million per year reforestation programme would perpetually employ over 400 youth in building back our forest cover, our timber inventory and protect our surface and ground water resources, so vital to the development and conservation of Belize and World Heritage interests such as The Great Belize Barrier Reef. Forestry should be placed front and center in Belize’s long-term development plans.
vi. If these suggestions are fully taken on board, there will be a boom in private sector home financing and construction. People who earn stable income can finance and build their own homes. Once a youth invests in owning a house lot, he should almost be guaranteed a housing loan of his means at a rate of 6.25% p.a. with 20-30 year term. 5,000 new homes per annum would create at least 10,000 new and sustainable construction jobs in the economy. Young Belizean males would turn back to work and away from drug and alcohol abuse, provide for their young families and regain much of their self-esteem…..so vital for reversing the delinquency and crime trends that increasingly plague Belize. A rebound in the construction sector is most important to the correction of the direction of the Belize general economy and especially for the youth. It should be private-sector driven, with the public sector policies to support it. We do not need to repeat the government-driven, corruption-riddled methods of the past….we should learn from our “mistakes”.
The views expressed in this article are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Breaking Belize News.
This article was written by Richard Harrison, Belizean investor in production and services businesses in Belize. He holds a Master’s in Business Administration degree from Lancaster University.
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