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Pandemic caused dramatic job losses

Hotel closures, first during the lockdown and then for renovations, as in the case of the Fairmont Southampton Resort, reduced tourism employment in 2020. (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Almost 3,000 jobs were lost last year as the pandemic wreaked economic havoc across Bermuda, Government said yesterday.

With the Bermuda economy contracting by an estimated 8.5 per cent, the near Depression scale downturn was thought to have cost 2,924 jobs or 8.5 per cent of all jobs held in November, 2019.

The National Economic Report of Bermuda for 2020, released with the Budget yesterday, also estimated that employment income plunged by 7.4 per cent through the first nine months of the year.

However, the impact of the pandemic and the lockdown on Bermuda are expected to ease in 2021, and the report predicts annual growth of 3.5 per cent as pent-up demand is released and the tourism industry begins to recover.

That growth will be welcome after the damage done in 2020, which effectively demolished growth which had been painfully built over the four years.

Curtis Dickinson, the finance minister, noted that even that growth had been inadequate. He said growth at constant prices between 2015 and 2019 had averaged 0.5 per cent, which was too slow to enable the economy to recover from the recession which began around 2010.

Mr Dickinson also said the pandemic had shut down tourism, but international business had proven to be more resilient.

He said: “Total visitor air and cruise arrivals fell by historic proportions in the calendar year 2020 (84.4 per cent and 98.3 per cent respectively), and spending was only $69.8 million (-86.6 per cent).

He added “In 2020, the international business sector provided 4,199 jobs in the economy, reflecting a growth of 4.5 per cent year over year, or an increase of 179 posts.

“During 2020, 733 new international companies and partnerships were registered in Bermuda, representing a 7.6 per cent increase compared with 681 registrations in 2019.”

That was fortunate, because along with tourism, construction was hard hit in 2020 with the number of new building permits - a leading indicator of development - dropping by 14 per cent and the value of new projects started, another leading indicator, through the first nine months of the year plunging by 45 per cent to $48 million.

The actual value of work put in mirrored this, falling from $183 million in the first nine months of 2019 to $106 million in the same period in 2020. The report said this was because no new residential projects were underway in 2020 compared to three in 2019.

The report provided two measures of job losses. It said that when 989 employees who were laid off in the reference week for the survey were included in the 2020 total, the total number of jobs lost were 1,935, leaving 32,443 in work.

When laid off employees were excluded, the total number of jobs fell by 2,924 or 8.5 per cent to 31,455.

Using the 32,443 figure, the report noted that Bermuda had lost 7,770 jobs since the peak of 40,213 in 2007, a decline of 19.3 per cent.

The heaviest job losses in 2020 occurred in accommodation and food service - 1,056 - human health and social work - 484 - and wholesale and retail trade - 256.

Other sectors lost less than 100 jobs while international business added 179 jobs to make a total of 4,199.

The future is brighter, the report said: “With the extraordinarily low level of economic activity witnessed in 2020, the Bermuda economy is expected to grow in 2021. The economic expansion will be led by sustained demand for financial services,. in particularly insurance and increasing tourist arrivals.”

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Published February 27, 2021 at 8:59 am (Updated February 27, 2021 at 8:59 am)

Pandemic caused dramatic job losses

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