The long-awaited national census that was delayed to August will now take place in May 2021, Minister of Economic Affairs and Investment Marsha Caddle announced on Sunday.
But with one of the lowest birth rates in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), the census could reveal that Barbados’ workforce could plummet in another 15 years, warned Caddle.
Caddle told a Labour Party meeting the recent findings of the National Population Commission will soon be examined at a series of broad-based discussions on the population’s falling growth rate .
“Barbados has among the lowest population growth rates in CARICOM. Since 1980, fertility rates have dipped below what is needed to simply replace the population. The total labour force will start declining from 2035. That is only 15 years from now; this is one of the most serious challenges of our time,” said Caddle.
Addressing the annual general meeting of the BLP’s St Michael South Central constituency branch, she outlined how the COVID-19 pandemic had caused fundamental changes to every area of Government’s operations.
Caddle said: “In most cases, COVID-19 has shown us how and where we need to do better, and speed up what we are doing, because we have had to adjust quickly.
“That is still true of the census, because even though we had to pause preparations as the country shut down at the height of COVID-19, we expect to be quicker and more nimble in the field next year, and to strengthen the use of technology to carry out this exercise.”
Towards the end of last year, Director of the Barbados Statistical Service (BSS) Aubrey Browne had indicated that he had made a request to Caddle for an extension so that his department could put the technology in place.
At the time, Browne said the BSS was short on resources and was therefore not prepared to conduct the survey in May this year, when it was originally due to take place.
Stressing the importance of the national census to any country’s development planning, Caddle said: “We have to take the time to get this one right.
“We only get one shot every ten years. The census is the largest and most significant survey any country undertakes, and all countries take it seriously. It gives us fundamental data on population characteristics like size, age, sex, social and economic composition.
“It allows us to do population projections and document trends in fertility, mortality, disability, migration, life expectancy and other population dynamics.
“If we use the data properly, we also get analytical outcomes, like resource planning gaps, monitoring of skills development, coverage of health-related programmes and the likely spread of disease among children and the elderly, access to services, and measures of economic activity.”
A well-done census would allow a government to come up with policies to adequately address the population’s needs, Caddle said, but without it “a lot of what we need to know about people’s needs and capacity remains invisible”.
The last population census in 2010, the 13th in the country’s history, counted the population at 226,193, but estimated it upwards to 277,821, after a higher under-count was taken into consideration.
Caddle said: “To give some sense of the ‘missing population’, at replacement, the population would have grown to 360,000 by now.”
Back in 2014, then Minister of Education Ronald Jones called on Barbadians to have more children, pointing out that the population needed to increase to over 320,000 in a decade in an effort to increase the workforce to help maintain the country’s standard of living.
Cuddle said: “We know that people are the biggest part of development, and we need enough hands to create the change we want to see. Changing reproductive behaviour sounds obvious but it is not the answer.
“We have to talk about the policies needed to do two things – one, get all Barbadians and those who now live here working and living the lives they value, and two, encourage those who can come join us and collaborate positively with Barbadians to create jobs and otherwise contribute to our national quality of life “
She promised that the BSS, part of the Ministry of Economic Affairs, will keep the public updated on census preparations and other important household surveys that allow all Barbadians to be a part of policymaking.
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