Addressing Bermudian income inequality

The Royal Gazette asked for my thoughts on the release of Census figures highlighting the disparity between white and black workers on island.   Portions of my comments were included in an article in today’s paper.

This is what I was asked

What jumped out at me personally was the disparity in annual personal income between white and black members of the public. Do you think this is part of the reason why the PLP’s emphasis on “two Bermuda’s” resonated with the public? What should government do to address this imbalance, and are they on the right track?

Below I have included a complete copy of my response.


 

Income inequality is a major factor in political movements all around the globe.  Lower income people feel left behind and disadvantaged by globalisation and economic policy that rewards the rich. The PLP’s emphasis on “two Bermuda’s” certainly contributed to their electoral success as not enough was done by the OBA to bridge this divide.  The same could be said of the previous PLP government as the reason for the OBAs meager victory in 2012.  Bridging the divide is a generational issue that requires long term focus on measuring the right statistics and addressing the root causes.

 

It is rather obvious that we have a troubling divide of income inequality in Bermuda, especially between the races.  We certainly didn’t need the census to tell us that.  However, one of the challenges we face is thoroughly understanding and addressing the root causes of these divides.  Too often we sensationalize misleading statistics without accepting that they tell an inaccurate and incomplete story.

 

The vast majority of our statistics and trends are published comparing black and white or Bermudian and non-Bermudian.  Our reliance on a large expat workforce can distort these numbers and turn people against the very things that could help address the root causes of our problems.  Unfortunately we rarely compare statistics and trends by race and status such as black Bermudian vs. white Bermudian.  By not doing so we distort the picture of true income inequality which makes for an easy target for short term political gains but an impossible problem to solve in the long term.

 

For example, let’s consider the PLP’s recent announcement that cryptocurrency exchange Binance will create 40 jobs on island.  It has been suggested that 30 of those jobs will be Bermudian so 10 of them will be non-Bermudian.   The likelihood is that the majority of those 10 non-Bermudian jobs will be highly skilled, highly paid positions filled predominantly by white people.   While Binance has made a very welcome pledge to invest in training and education, that will take time and the 20 Bermudian jobs are more likely to be support roles.  While those support roles are likely to be more representative of our local demographics they are unlikely to be as well paid as the non-Bermudian jobs.

 

Now let’s consider the PLP has considerable success in attracting cryptocurrency and fintech businesses to the island and generates many, many jobs. In a few years time, when the next census comes out, what would we read?  White incomes rose considerably while black incomes rose modestly.  Would that be a fair analysis?  Should the PLP in that case be blamed for not addressing income inequality and making whites richer?  Personally I think that would be unreasonable.

 

The challenge we face is that we are reliant on foreign investment and skilled labour to create jobs on island.  We could certainly insist that these new cryptocurrency and fintech businesses recruit non-Bermudian staff that match our own demographics, however that would act as a deterrent to those businesses creating jobs here.  We desperately need growth and new jobs.

 

So, solely comparing black and white is a poor means to measure our racial income inequality problem when we rely on foreign investment and workers who distort those numbers.  Instead we need to focus on measuring the Bermudian racial inequality problem so we can identify whether or not we’re achieving our aim of reducing racial income inequality.  Very thankfully, the 2016 census contains a breakdown of income by race and by status.  What this means is that by the time the next census is complete, our benchmark for success should be whether the income gap between black Bermudians, mixed/other Bermudians and white Bermudians has narrowed or has widened.

 

Narrowing the racial income inequality gap among Bermudians needs to be the target of any Bermudian government.  Focusing solely black and white numbers is great for political rallying but poor for driving long term results.  We cannot solve global inequality but we can most certainly do more to solve Bermudian inequality.  As such, I am very encouraged and hopeful that the pledges to incorporate funding and support for educating Bermudians on this proposed new fintech industry will do more to provide opportunity for all Bermudians and help narrow the gap.

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