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Mar 14, 2023

The Unemployment and Employment Rates over the last Decade

In January, the Statistical Institute of Belize announced that the employment rate currently stands at five percent as of October 2022. Since then, the low unemployment figure has come under heavy scrutiny, particularly from the opposition party. Leader of the Opposition Moses “Shyne” Barrow ardently argued on Friday that the unemployment rate fell below five percent under the Barrow Administration. He said that the statistic is there to prove it. Prime Minister John Briceño refuted Barrow’s claims. He too referred us to the statistics. But, what does the statistics really say about both party’s performance where unemployment and employment are concerned? News Five’s Paul Lopez turned to Statistical Institute of Belize for an explanation. Here is that report.


Moses “Shyne” Barrow

Moses “Shyne” Barrow, Leader of the Opposition

“Thirteen years of the Barrow Administration were exceptional and I am asking you to look at the comparison. I did the comparison, the competitive numbers that the IMF presented. So, when you look at unemployment, no matter which threshold they use, it was lower in 2018, 2019, it was at four percent. It is at five percent now. Do the numbers.”


Prime Minister John Briceño

Prime Minister John Briceño

“When he makes these things, he embarrasses himself. The data is there for him to watch. So, I think that is as far as I would want to take it there. As the growth in the economy he simply needs to look at the numbers again. The UDP never had four percent unemployment and I challenge him to give me the statistics where that four percent came.”


Back in January, Wendy Benavides, a Statistician at the Statistical Institute of Belize announced that Belize’s unemployment rate in October 2022 stood at five percent.


Wendy Benavides

Wendy Benavides, Statistician, S.I.B. (File: Jan 11, 2023)

“The estimated number of unemployed persons was nine thousand, six hundred and forty-four, which represented a five percent unemployment rate.”


This is, in fact, a marked improvement from SIB’s December 2020 Labor Force Survey which had the unemployment rate at almost fourteen percent. But, as that report also pointed out, at the time almost thirty-nine thousand persons lost their jobs that year due to COVID-19. But, when compared to the September 2019 Labour Force Survey, which reported an almost equal labor force estimate as October 2022, the unemployment rate at the time stood at ten point four percent. This was under the Barrow Administration.


Wendy Benavides, Statistician II, S.I.B. (File: Nov 27, 2019)

Unemployed persons, those wanting and available to work, represent ten point four percent of the labour force or nineteen thousand eight hundred and forty-nine persons.”


Before moving forward, it must be mentioned that in 2020 SIB changed the methodology it uses to calculate the unemployment rate, to abide by international standards. Ironically, this new approach was never used in calculations prior to the P.U.P. administration.


Wendy Benavides, Statistician II, S.I.B. (Dec 9, 2020)

“The unemployment counts using the previous methodology is almost three times larger compared to figures using the new definition? Under the previous more relaxed definition, unemployment levels using the previous definition stand at twenty-nine point six percent compared to thirteen point seven percent using the refined definition in September 2020. The reason why unemployment levels are lower using the revised definition is due to person not looking for work that were previously captured as unemployed now classified as out of the labour force.”


Notwithstanding the change in methodology or threshold, as the Opposition Leader puts it, in April 2019, S.I.B. concluded that the unemployment rate stood at seven point six percent. The report noted that this had been the lowest rate ever recorded at the time.


Moses “Shyne” Barrow

When we see that we can do a statistical comparison and that the numbers are far beyond and above anything at the height of the Barrow administration then I will give kudos.”

And, while we do not expect any hurrahs and congratulations from the Opposition Leader solely based on S.I.B.’s figures, the data is in fact online for anyone to review. A look at the employment rate over the past five years, however, will tell its own story. Close to eighty-five hundred individuals became employed between April 2018 and April 2019. By September 2019, just over one hundred and seventy thousand individuals had jobs. That number dropped significantly at the end of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But by September 2021, the number of persons employed grew by almost eighteen thousand. This was a sign that people were returning to work. But, despite the high number, employment in 2021 grew by only four thousand more than the pre-pandemic September 2019 figures. Between September 2021 and October 2022, the employment figures grew by another seven thousand eight hundred persons. So simply put, the single highest jump in employment over the last five years, excluding the post 2020 return to work rebound, according to S.I.B.’s statistics was between April 2018 and 2019, under the U.D.P. Administration. Reporting for News Five, I am Paul Lopez.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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