Why some unemployed expect the $18,000

Most persons in the working class or in business in Jamaica are flabbergasted as to why persons who are unemployed and perhaps not employable are making plans to spend their extra $18,000 (or however much it works out to be in the recently announced phased introduction of the new income tax threshold). There have been several news reports and anecdotes highlighting and quoting unemployed persons who genuinely expect to receive this extra money. I think the reason they expect it and why the working / corporate class is so shocked is a reflection of the socio-economic disconnect in our society.

Many persons in a steady job know what it is earn a salary and to have the respective taxes taken out before the money reaches their pockets. They also know what it is like to pay all or most of their bills – rent/mortgage, light, water, groceries, Internet, telephone, partner, car payment, school fee, savings (maybe) etc – and don’t have any money left. They creep up to stoplights in cars (usually still owned by the bank or credit union) and honestly don’t have any spare change to give the windscreen wiper or beggar, because they honestly don’t have any spare change. Some of them actually prepare lunch bags from leftovers as part of how they manage to balance their budget. Buying lunch at $500 per day (drink not included) adds up! So these working people are acutely aware of how much they earn and how much it can cover. They also almost immediately know what any increase – whether $5000 or $18,000 – will do for them; which bills they will soon be better able to manage or what new expenditure they can take on.

Those who are unemployed and who are perhaps unemployable or have not been formally employed have similar challenges making ends meet, but their worldview and life experience may be a little different and may explain why some expect to receive the extra $18,000. Persons in a lower socio-economic space tend to receive support payments from the government through various programmes. The PATH programme is one example. They also have access to housing programmes. And then there are the short term jobs that provide a cheque and ‘a work’ now and then. Oftentimes, both the getting of the job and the cheque is handout type of situation. Moreover, when some persons from this socio economic space experience a fire at their home, for example, or other kind of tragedy, there is an expectation that the government must step in and ‘sort them out’. The government must buy back their furniture and appliances and interestingly also provide them with a house. Sometimes the government and other goodwill organizations do. This is not unusual and it is not a bad thing to help those in need.

The life experience of the working class person / family however may and usually tend to differ. If someone in the working class experienced a fire at their home for example, they more than likely will cry to friends and family and try to ‘rise from the ashes’ on their own.  If there is a government programme that provides help, then they may try and access that too, maybe, but hardly. The difference is that they usually expect to solve their problem on their own. And yes they are gainfully employed so they are expected to be able to. But as mentioned earlier, many of them have no spare change left after paying all the bills concerning their family and simply have to dig deep into the love of their extended family and friends or take out yet another loan to deal with some of these unexpected challenges.

Ultimately, their expectation from government is largely more communal; they expect government to provide roads, street lights, hospitals and schools etc. While the expectation of some persons in a lower socio economic class is more personal – ‘what can government do for me? A school bag, a stipend, a work, a low income house, an extra $18,000?’ To be clear, I am not saying that everyone in a low income group is expecting a handout, I am saying that unfortunately many persons in that grouping do have that expectation and that it is something to look at if we want to truly grow together as a people. We must empower ALL our people to take responsibility for themselves and their families and strive to fulfill their own potential, as many have done from all socio-economic backgrounds. Yes government welfare is and should continue to be part of how we take care of the vulnerable in our society but certainly there must be a cultural shift in how much of an onus is placed on self for personal success and development. Here’s how I see it – first trust and thank God for what He has made available to you, then look at yourself – your natural abilities, talents, resources, desires, opportunities, however small etc – to see what you can do with what you have been given and then we can look externally. Not the other way around.

Shelly-Ann Harris is an author, family advocate and the editorial director and founder of Family and Faith Magazine. Send comments shellyannharris@gmail.com.



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