I heard about the call for comments in the news on increasing the minimum wage, and there is so much here that I don’t know where to start.
I think we should first complete the population census to understand what is really going on in our territory at different levels. What is good and needs strengthening, and what are the problems? Once we answer those questions, we can identify the solutions.
Decisions without information are like driving a car with no gauges on the dashboard working to tell you what is happening with the vehicle. Can I make it home, or should I stop and buy gas because I have less than a quarter tank?
The recommendations about unemployment benefits and a national pension plan are not new, but somehow they have never been a high priority for past legislators — or they would have been implemented a decade ago. This type of inaction depresses me, because I believe Virgin Islanders to be intelligent and sensible people. Our territory should not be in the bad state it is in, with no proper social safety nets.
I definitely will be reading the full report to see what it says about an economic development plan, which is badly needed because economic growth means businesses can create more jobs and sustain better wages. A census will also tell us what percentage of the population is living at minimum wage. It might be less or more than we think — and it might be specific to certain industries.
Increasing the minimum wage doesn’t mean all salaries go up automatically. It will apply to those jobs that fall below the new level.
A poverty assessment is also overdue, and it is needed to inform what the living wage should actually look like based on the factors behind poverty. The last report was a couple years before the 2017 hurricanes, and some people were classified as working poor then — and that was about 10 years ago.
The pandemic set back the economy a second time, and many families are struggling more to keep their heads above water because of how global prices drove up the local cost of living. That is one reason why social assistance is needed for the vulnerable the report identifies.
Next budget cycle
The engineer in me cautions us against taking one report to make a major decision like this without a comprehensive assessment, so we can plan how to fix the right problem correctly. A failure to plan is a plan to fail and will make sure we are complaining about the same problems 20 years from now.
A working group should be setup, as was done last time, to do the research and come back with recommendations on what needs to be done. Cayman Islands just concluded its review.
As we approach the next budget planning cycle in two months, I hope the decision (not lip service) on how taxpayers’ dollars are spent next year will reflect the high-priority issues to create a better society for us to live and work in.