Opposition Leader Lester Bird is standing by claims he made four days ago at the opening of Parliamentary Debate on the 2012 budget that overall unemployment in Antigua & Barbuda stands at 25 per cent, and among the youth is as high as 45 per cent.

He was subsequently taken to task by Education Minister Dr Jacqui Quinn-Leandro (former holder of the Labour portfolio), who cited official estimates of 12 per cent for unemployment nationally.

In a press release Thursday afternoon, Bird pointed to the declines in economic output that the country has for the last three years.

According to Bird, since there is a high correlation between GDP and unemployment, it means that if GDP increases it pushes employment up, and if GDP declines it likewise pulls employment down.

The former Prime Minister claims that in many countries there is a one-to-one correspondence between GDP and employment, and added that if GDP increases by one per cent, employment also increases by one per cent and vice versa.

Bird said “this is particularly so if the decline in GDP impacts the labour intensive sectors such as tourism”, as “is clearly the case in Antigua &Barbuda.”

The press release continued: “It is technically correct to estimate that in addition to the unemployment figure of nine per cent in 2008, and additional 16 per cent were added to the ranks of the unemployed on account of three successive years of decline in output in 2009, 2010 and 2011 respectively.”

Providing what he considers to be “evidence” of 45 per cent youth unemployment, Bird said “over the period under examination (2009 to 2011) there have been approximately 2,000 school leavers. This implies that, with an exemption for those who left the country possibly to further their studies, there were approximately 2,000 new entrants to the labour force. A simple sample survey of this group reinforces what we suspected that less than 3 out of ten found jobs.”

He did not say if such “a simple sample survey” has actually been done, when, and by whom.

Instead he said “What the former Minister of Labour should take note of is the large ratio of part time workers whose work days have been reduced from five to three or even two days. These workers are registered and disguised as fully employed and in a real sense give a flattering and false assessment of the level of employment in Antigua and Barbuda. Fundamentally, the rates of attrition over the years were and are not high enough to absorb the large volume of new entrants into the labour market annually.”

He continued: “There has been a build up [of] three layers of the unemployed. Those who completed school and are not able to get any jobs, estimated at seven in every 10 or 70 per cent of school leavers; those who lost their jobs because of the decline in the economy, estimated at 16 per cent; plus the stock of unemployed which was nine per cent in 2008, clearly yielding a figure in excess of 25 per cent as a national average of unemployment.”

Determined not to be the one put on the defensive, the Opposition Leader called “on the former Minister of Labour, The Honourable Jacqui Quinn-Leandro, to apologise to the nation of Antigua & Barbuda for the insensitivity she exhibited to the needs faced by the large volume of unemployed by indicating that it is just 12 per cent. She must be made to apologise for the lack of recognition of the quantum of the unemployed in the country . . . and therefore the consequent lack of concern.”

(Source http://www.antiguaobserver.com/?p=68732)