They who operate at the highest levels in the field of Social Security gathered in Guatemala, on the occasion of the XXV General Assembly of the Inter-American Conference on Social Security to discuss the effect of the crisis. In doing so, they re-affirmed that Social Security plays an important role in fighting poverty, in providing a buffer against these types of crises and is an ‘essential element in overcoming the current crisis, and in preventing and abating greater crises”. In other words, we are well placed to help stimulate faltering economies. Indeed, that the world has been gripped By depression or recession (take your pick) is open knowledge. That St Kitts & Nevis is suffering from the financial crunch is another fact. But there are some optimists who, having looked at the data, argue that we are once again emerging out of the darkness towards the light. And while I agree that one swallow does not make a summer, the fact is that signs are emerging within the economy that strengthens the argument of the optimists. In this Commentary, I will present four proverbial swallows: you determine whether the ‘summer of content” has arrived. Are we in recovery, recuperation or still in stagnation? Businesses were still hiring. Up to the end of 2009, there were 1,466 persons who were first time registrants with the institution. Since one has to be employed in order to register, and since there is no need to register as one moves from job to job, then it is fair to assume then that these were persons who have successfully entered the workforce for the first time. This is apart from the 207 persons who registered as self employed. Of particular interest to Social Security is that this achievement is less than 6% down on last year’s, and was better than that of 2007 By over 2%. The stimulus for such employment activity comes through the Construction industry Government & statutory bodies, the small business sector, the hospitality and the manufacturing sectors. We noted that 243 new businesses registered and 59 re-started activity. The 177 that closed shop still leaves us in the black, with a net gain of 125 businesses. The Construction industry was again at the mix of business activity. It is fair to say that Construction has become a major pillar of our society. It would be useful to determine the value of these new buildings that are being erected. There is further good news. Young people – school leavers, aged 19 and under – are finding work; they represent 43.5% of the hiring in the year; and this time, with an almost even split between young men and young women. To the end of December 2009, we have collected contributions of close to EC$70 million, of which a little under EC$ 1million came from the hands of the self employed. When one considers that collections are 10% & 11% of wages up to EC$6,500 per month, then we begin to appreciate that wages alone was upwards of EC$590 million, excluding the bonus that was paid in December. Undoubtedly, there is money circulating in the land! There is one anomaly: despite the significance of the construction industry, it yielded less than 9% of all collections for the year. This suggests that construction workers are still short-changing themselves! Has the attitude of workers become any better during the crisis? If we use absence from work as a measure of work attitude, then there may be hope. Consider this: between January and December, there were 10,715 absences due to sickness that qualified for leave from work of 3 or more days; a decrease By 67 cases over the last year. Maybe it is just that less people are employed, but maybe job holders are less inclined to play ‘hooky’! Another measure of the above is the number of productive days lost due to illness and employment injury (and pregnancy too, but pregnancy is encouraging to Social Security). This year, over 80,000 production days were lost, excluding pregnant days, and it declined each quarter. It is still much too high, but hopefully a pattern is emerging that will continue. The fourth parameter which we hope is an indication of recovery is the return on investments. We have recovered, in 2009, whatever ground was lost earlier in the immediate aftermath of the financial crisis, and in fact have had a 9% better performance than we had budgeted for. You already know who we invested in most for 2009. Meanwhile, the buoyancy of the economy was certainly helped By the re-infusion of approximately $40 million in benefit payments of all kinds for 2009. This is a fair measure of just how much Social Security is doing to keep the economy buoyant while trying to stimulate growth.2010 will test our mettle. It will be tough going. But when the going gets tough, that’s when the tough get going. Will we be tough enough? Let us all pray for strength!
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