Desperate times

For many years, Bermuda was able to boast that it had among the highest per capita incomes in the world, one of the highest standards of living in the world, overemployment and virtually no poverty.

That’s not to say that there was no poverty, or that some people were not struggling, especially with a high cost of living, or that all people were millionaires.

But for the vast majority of Bermudians, a willingness to work hard combined with plentiful jobs meant that most people could enjoy the prospect of a good lifestyle and financial security.

Yesterday’s story on the Salvation Army graphically shows that that is no longer the case.

The statistics do not lie. The Salvation Army has seen the cost of supplying food to the unemployed nearly double from $10,000 a month to $18,000 a month since Christmas. The number of people receiving food is now around 400 a month, up from 240 last year.

An average of 325 families a month receive support, up significantly from the level in 2009.

More than 4,000 people receive services of one kind or another each month.

The same story is repeated elsewhere. Food vouchers distributed by the Anglican Church in Pembroke that used to last a month now run out in days.

The amount of money budgeted for Financial Assistance increased by $2 million to $39 million year over year.

All of this shows that there are many people in Bermuda who are struggling desperately in these times. And, inevitably, this is also the time when there is less money available to help them.

But the community has to help. Bermuda has a history of helping the less fortunate, and the fact that incomes generally have declined should not change that.

Organisations like the Salvation Army are lifelines for many people, and need support.

However, simply providing assistance to those most in need is not enough.

Bermuda needs to return to economic growth and to create jobs in order to genuinely help people. And to do that demands the kind of economic reforms that Sir John Swan and Larry Burchall, among others, proposed in yesterday’s newspaper.

What has to be recognised is that Bermuda is in a genuine and nearly unparalleled economic crisis. For every person in desperate financial need, there are two or three more who are a redundancy slip or mortgage payment away from disaster. The levels of job losses, the decline in the domestic economy, demonstrated by the severe drop in April retail sales, the loss of thousands of jobs in the last three years, are causing a spiralling decline which cannot be reversed if Bermuda’s leaders behave as if this is a temporary reversal.

Whether Bermuda’s economic decline is caused by local or international factors — and that’s an argument that has almost no importance for people who are in the fist of the recession — the fact is that only Bermuda, through its own actions, can pull itself out of it.