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June 2022: Unemployment and high cost of living hit island hard

Counting the cost: The price of groceries continued to climb in June (File photograph)

The economy dominated front page headlines throughout June, as families on modest means began to struggle against a tide of runaway inflation and unemployment.

Jason Hayward, the Minister of the Economy and Labour, delivered a bleak statistic at the beginning of the month – almost one-in-three young adults was out of work.

At a press conference to launch the National Youth Employment Strategy, Mr Hayward explained that the primary reason the figure was so high was “a lack of job opportunities”.

A week later, the struggles of those at the other end of the demographic scale were highlighted by one charity.

Age Concern Bermuda revealed that the elderly were struggling to pay for basics such as rent, electricity and food because of increasing prices.

Mercedes Pringle-DeSilva, the charity’s programmes operations manager, said: “Many of our members and clients have voiced their concerns regarding the steady increases in these prices and the desire for more regulations surrounding price control.”

On the following day, a survey showed that a third of residents felt forced to buy less food and choose cheaper, less healthy options when shopping for groceries.

A spokesman for Narrative Research Bermuda said that most survey respondents were “feeling the pinch”.

He said: “Inflation, linked to the Covid-19 pandemic and global supply-chain issues, has left its mark on Bermuda over the past six months.

“The impact of rising food prices on grocery shopping is keenly felt, with six in ten (62 per cent) residents stating that they now must budget for food more closely.”

And it wasn’t just home cooks who were feeling the pinch. Restaurateurs complained that margins were razor-thin because of the cost of raw ingredients.

Alfred Konrad, co-owner of Wahoo’s Bistro & Patio on Water Street in St George, said: “It is through the roof. The price of food is changing almost on a daily basis. We don’t want to pass that on to consumers, but our margins are getting smaller and smaller.”

Official figures released at the end of the month confirmed that food prices had increased dramatically over the previous 12 months, with some items rising by almost 30 per cent.

The Department of Statistics claimed that, overall, inflation had risen by just 2.5 per cent in the previous year – because prices had remained flat or even fallen in other categories used to measure the index, such as rent.

That claim was disputed by one realtor who said that a shortage of properties on the market had pushed up rental prices.

Sceptics also questioned why the figure was so low, when other jurisdictions were suffering from near double digit inflation.

By the end of the year, Bermuda’s inflation rate was catching up with other countries – for September it was 5.1 per cent, with food prices up 10 per cent and fuel and power costs rising by 15 per cent.

Craig Simmons, an economics lecturer at the Bermuda College, urged the Government to seek out short term solutions.

Mr Simmons said that food independence could cut cost-of-living increases, but added: “Decreasing our reliance on food imports requires thoughtful government policies to support the efforts of farmers.

“But the most vulnerable cannot wait for a government to develop thoughtful policies. Their need is immediate and so their strategy must be immediate.”

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Published January 01, 2023 at 7:52 am (Updated December 30, 2022 at 12:38 pm)

June 2022: Unemployment and high cost of living hit island hard

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