THE PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS

Economies are not simple things. They’re even more complex than the still not fully understood human body. In fact, unlike the human body, which seems not to change too radically. After centuries, humans still have two eyes, two legs, and one mouth. In the same time, economies have undergone radical and undeniable change.

            Two hundred years ago, Bermudians – with two eyes, two legs, and one mouth – were raiding other people’s ships and stealing their stuff. Well, it wasn’t called stealing. Then it was called privateering.  That’s alright because in those days people were said to be so polite. At any rate, that’s what historians have told us. But that’s the sort of activity that kept Bermuda’s economy going – back then.

            Nowadays we’re more technical. We sell stuff called Insurance and ‘services’ and ‘tourism’. I don’t know what those old-timers would make of all this. They probably wouldn’t understand it and might think us strange. But I find it strange how we’re working so hard to grow our economy the way that we seem to be growing it. Well, to be correct, it’s more like the economy is growing the way most free economies grow.      Individuals see opportunity. Individuals pool their resources. These individual efforts – clumping together as industries – then create a fresh new set of opportunities – and presto! A changed economy. That’s the way free economies work.

            However free economies operate within human societies. Human societies are impacted and affected by their interaction with other human societies. The combination of economy and society creates a social economy. In some social economies, jobs are gained. In others, jobs are lost. No loss, no gain?  Then jobs shift around. But nothing stands still.

            Bermuda and its social economy – the combination of the human society that lives in Bermuda and the economic machine that works on Bermuda – is beset by a jobs shift problem.

            Bermuda’s Tourism Industry restarted with a ‘big bang’ in 1946. In those old days of segregation and discrimination, for Bermuda’s majority population, Tourism was the only way out and up. So they bit their tongues, smiled, carried trays, tended bar, made beds, drove taxis. In the mid-1980’s – a whole generation later – there was a clear generational Bermudian step-away from Tourism. Bermudians shifted their focus and turned their backs on Tourism. They focused on something else.

            Tourism responded by dipping into the global marketplace, found excellent replacement staff, and re-worked itself as an efficient machine that used lower paid global workers who were being paid on a global – not Bermudian – scale. Tourism went back to making its necessary profits. Bermudians now make up the minority of employees in Bermuda’s Hospitality Industry.

            Running from or escaping or shunning Tourism, Bermudians went into the Civil Service and International Business. IB has special and high requirements that demand a good education and specialist skills. So not every Bermudian can aspire to join IB. The Civil Service has a relatively high entry requirement – frequently demanding an Associate’s degree as a condition of employment.

            That leaves a bunch of Bermudians who are now shut out from the Hospitality Industry by the low ‘global wage’ structure and the reality of a forty week tourism year; who can’t get into IB or the Civil Service because they lack the skills or education base; have little prospect of new or additional job opportunity in Bermuda’s shrinking Retail Sector; and, in a final and new national reality, are squeezed out of service sectors by the globalizing of remaining service sectors such as landscaping, construction, hairdressing, butchering, etc…

            That leaves a group of Bermudians who are shut out or priced out of two Industries, can’t get into another – skills and education requirements are too high; and are being shrunk out of a third – because it is shrinking, or, at least, not growing.

            This group of Bermudians – and this socio-economic reality is colour-blind – are like the ‘people under the stairs’.  They’re not in the cellar, not in the room, and not on their way up the stairs. They’re stuck, hidden away, under the stairs.

            Will the planned new hotel developments at Southlands and Parlaville help the ‘people under the stairs’? Do the existing ‘condo developments’ help the ‘people under stairs’? Is Bermuda’s changed economy steadily pushing more Bermudian ‘people under the stairs’?

            Are there really ‘people under the stairs’?

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