Moving back from across the poverty line Editorial
Guyana Chronicle
September 30, 2003

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A REUTERS report on poverty in the US, published in the world news column of our Sunday edition, tells an interesting story.

According to the Washington-based report, another 1.7 million Americans "slid into poverty in 2002 and incomes dipped for the second year in a row."

Overall, says the Reuters story, quoting the US Census Bureau's annual report, "the US population living in poverty grew for a second year, rising to 12.1 per cent from 11.7 percent in 2001."

In terms of numbers, 34.6 million Americans now live below the poverty line, up from 32.9 million in 2001.

Blacks are particularly hard hit.

In fact, America's black population is "the only group that saw a larger percentage of its members living in poverty - 24.1 per cent from 22.7 percent in 2001," according to the Census Bureau.

But that's not all.

Real income for all races fell 1.1 per cent last year. And in terms of job opportunities, the already sluggish US economy failed to find work for the 3.3 million private sector employees who lost their jobs since January 2001, when the Bush administration assumed office.

Private economists and the White House concede that unemployment "is a lagging indicator" of the US economy's volatility and agree that a sustained national growth rate of 4 per cent or higher is needed to solve the major problem of unemployment.

The US economy grew at an annual rate of only 3.3% in the second quarter of the year, much too low, experts say, for the job market to regain ground.

The White House blames the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and a spate of corporate scandals for the economy's shaky position.

What the White House doesn't mention is its military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq. The present occupation of Iraq is costing the US taxpayers one billion (US) dollars a week. Now Mr. Bush is asking Congress to approve of the sum of $87 billion for rebuilding Iraq.

His Opposition is saying that the American economy needs that money and it would be better spent at home than in Iraq.

Although those in charge of the Iraqi administration won't admit it, the situation in Iraq is worsening every day. American soldiers are dying from guerilla attacks at the rate of one a day and US soldiers are shooting Iraqis at a much heavier rate, creating greater hostility to the US occupation.

What does this interesting story mean for Guyana? As the US economy fails to recover, and as poverty and unemployment are on the rise, it is passing strange that the Sunday edition of one of Guyana's newspapers carried four advertisements offering help for Guyanese to go over to North America.

With jobs hard to get there, Guyanese immigrants can hope only for lower-level jobs - domestics, guards, car washers, waiters, etc., jobs they might be reluctant to take here.

At the same time, many people frown when our leaders call for Guyanese to return home and for those still here to profitably utilize their skills and energy in the building of our nation.

Skeptics respond by lamenting the failure of Government to provide "can't-refuse" incentives to avoid or reverse the brain drain - essentially the flow of skilled professionals from less developed countries such as Guyana, to the more developed countries.

We have seen large-scale immigration to, say, the United States, doing serious damage to the countries left behind.

But while developing countries are losing the people they can least afford to - those who are skilled and educated, who perform crucial services contributing to the health and economy of the country, and who create new jobs for others - we're also seeing scores of Guyanese returning as "deportees" each year because they have found involvement in illicit practices - drug trafficking, gun-running and other crimes - easier than the acquisition of jobs in the countries from which they were sent back.

Guyana is 200-plus years behind the US, and much, much smaller. Yet we need not take that long to move into the upper crust of development. We can leap those centuries in just a few decades.

We urge those who contribute to the lure of Guyanese abroad to consider the implications of their action. And we invite them to help reverse the brain drain, thus better contributing to the development of their homeland and moving Guyana and its people back from across the poverty line.