ARE you single, in your 30s and from south Trinidad?
Then chances are, you may be among this country’s “working poor.” These were some of the findings that University of the West Indies (UWI) economics MSc graduate Alana Span presented at the UWI St Augustine department of economics’ Youth Economic Forum. The event was held yesterday at the Faculty of Social Sciences Lounge, UWI.
Span discussed the issue of working poverty and education. “Do you know anyone who is working and still poor? I put myself in that category, because I can’t even buy a car.” She said “nobody wants to be poor” and recalled a man told her only on Wednesday that the day he does not have money, he will kill himself.
“I couldn’t talk him out of it. I don’t know if he was serious or joking.” She explained that the working poor are people who are employed but belong to a household that is poor. The International Labour Organisation describes the working poor as working people who live in poverty.
“The person might have a good job, but they are still considered poor, because the whole household is considered.” She said worldwide, one in five people in the labour force is in the working poor category. She added that the description “working poor” was not only about how much money a person makes, but can be affected by individual characteristics.
Women and younger people were more likely to be in the category. “Minimum wage alone cannot make you escape working poverty. It has to be in conjunction with a lot of other things. Moving from $15 to $17.50 (the new minimum wage announced by the Finance Minister in his 2019/2020 budget presentation) alone cannot just guarantee that people would not be poor.”
She said in TT most of the working poor are: aged 30-39; from the Victoria district (south Trinidad); work in the private sector, in occupations like construction, fisheries, agriculture or retail; have one job; are unmarried; and have a household income of $4,000-$4,999 a month.
She stressed that after paying rent of $3,000 and buying food with $2,000, “That’s it for many people.” Span said she was surprised to find most of the working poor had a small household size and there were a lot of single people. “Yes, get an education. Yes get a job. But be mindful that there are so many factors that affect whether you turn out to be working poor or not. Try to find jobs in a profitable, lucrative industry. Try to plan your family size...to reduce your chances of being working poor.”
She said the greatest chance of escaping being working poor was to get a university education, as that reduced the probability by 42 per cent, compared to 39 per cent for a secondary school education, and 36 per cent for primary school education or diploma. She also said that people would earn 11.5 per cent more for every additional year of education, and encouraged people to further their education.
Economics PhD candidate Corine Gregoire spoke about inequality and access to income as it related to education. She said of the schools under academic watch for low performance, 20 were in the Port of Spain district, 18 in St George East and ten in the southeast. Of the schools that were excelling, there were 15 in Caroni and 19 in Victoria.
Gregoire also reported 22 government schools, 28 Catholic-run schools and ten Anglican-run schools were under academic watch, while among the schools that are excelling, there are 13 Hindu schools, 13 Presbyterian schools and 23 private schools.
She said income distribution will affect whether a child could be sent to a private school or not.
There were particular groups in society with a lot of people “falling by the wayside” and the question was how to help these marginal communities. “We spend a lot of money on education, but how many people are accessing it, or are accessing the best education?”