The following is commentary by Shaina M. Smith-Archer.
I heard about the call for comments in the news on increasing the minimum wage, and there is so much here I don’t know which corner to start at.
I think we should first complete the population census to understand what is really going on in our country at different levels – what is good and needs strengthening, and what the problem(s) are, and then identify the solutions. Decisions without information is 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 full?
The recommendations about unemployment benefits and a national pension plan are no new discussions 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 and our country should not be in the bad state it is in with no proper social safety nets.
I will definitely be reading the full report to see what it says about an economic development plan that is needed because economic growth means businesses can create more jobs and sustain paying better wages. A census will also tell us what % of the population are living at minimum wage because it might be less or more than we think and 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 is needed to inform what the living wage should actually look like based on what the factors are 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 speaks about.
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 their review.
As we approach the next budget planning cycle in 2 months, I hope the DECISIONS, (not lip service) on how our TAXPAYERS’ dollars are spent next year, reflects the high priority issues to create a better society for us to live and work in.