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Statistics, Development and Human Rights

between the scale of poverty of conditions of existence… and the income or standard of living scales.“ [Strobel 1996:177].

A better understanding of how particular income levels and occupational activities can and do sustain particular types and levels of consumption, and how these affect the meaning and levels of poverty might be expected to give better direction to the development of appropriate policy interventions.

In this paper it will be argued that given some of the social and economic realities in the Jamaican society, the current consumption-based poverty indices are in  danger of misrepresenting the real levels, direction and character of human development, of  providing inaccurate impressions of the policy impacts of poverty reduction initiatives, and therefore of misinforming the policy development and formulation processes.

The Poverty Measure

In Jamaica, individual poverty is measured. The Poverty line is composed of a basket of food and non-food items. The food component is determined on the basis of the recommended minimum nutritional requirements for a reference family of five. Dietary surveys are used to determine the representative consumption patterns of household in the two poorest quintiles. In this way the ‘food poor’ are counted. A second standard is the general poverty line that is arrived at by adding to the cost of the food basket, an amount representing the cost of basic non-food items such as clothing, footwear, transportation, health care, education, and other personal expenses. The mean expenditure of the bottom two quintiles is used to determine this second line. This is the line used in the analysis in this paper.

4. Socio-economic Trends in Jamaica – 1989-1998

Some of the principal socio-economic indicators as well as the changing poverty levels over the 1989-98 period are presented in Table 1. Several points need to be highlighted:


There has been a fairly consistent downward trend in the pattern of economic growth.


The unemployment rates have nevertheless not changed significantly, and have persistently ranged between 15-17%


In spite of the downward slide of the economy, the poverty levels have nevertheless been cut in half over the period.

The most unexpected association is that between of falling poverty levels and a declining economy. Indeed, it is interesting to note that the poverty levels in 1990, 1995 and 1996 are almost identical – even though the growth performance in each of those years are widely different. It is also intriguing that there appears to be very little relationship between employment and poverty.. In Table 1 it may also be seen that  the same level of unemployment (eg 15%) is associated with widely different levels of poverty: 45% of the population in 1991 as compared with only 15.9% in 1998. Turning to the Human Development Index – while the changes in the methods of calculation prevent time-based comparisons - it is interesting to note that the values assigned have fallen over the same period in which the poverty levels have decreased.

Table 1 - Jamaica: poverty, and selected macroeconomic indicators


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