TWO BERMUDA’S

It has often been said – and written – by many people, that there are two Bermudas. In the past, I’ve referred to a Bermuda that’s been divided, and divided very clearly, along racial lines. Bermuda is re-dividing now. This time on new economic lines.

            The top group are the people who operate in International Business and its direct supporters – accounting, legal, banking services. You can see their pay levels as offered in all those big ads that fill the help wanted sections of the local papers. You can also see it in the housing that’s lived in by these highflyers.

            Middle group? Bermudian owners of the $6,000 a month rental units; Bermudian owners of successful service businesses; Bermudian entrepreneurs who are thrusting forward with their new businesses that feed off the high-payers in IB, Government workers generally, and people who land good government and private sector contracts. 

            Taken together, the top and middle groups operate in the top part of Bermuda’s overall economy. Together, they form the top section of Bermuda’s economy. They’re the ones who clearly earn enough to live on and play with in Bermuda’s economy. This section lives and thrives in an economy where Western or developed country wages and salaries are being paid.  Here salaries compare well with US or Canadian or UK salaries and allow a good Bermuda-style lifestyle.

            Underneath this composite top section is another section. This section operates in a lower layer. This section is filled by workers who come to Bermuda out of low income countries. Low income meaning that the Bermuda dollar that they earn and save in Bermuda and then send to their home countries is worth five, ten, sometimes fifteen times what a Bermuda dollar is worth in Bermuda.

            A trained and experienced Filipino nurse working in the Philippines can expect to earn – be paid – less than $4,000 US per YEAR. A Filipino nurse working in Bermuda [or in the USA or Canada or Ireland] can expect to send home anything from $1,000 to $1,500 a MONTH [$12,000 to $18,000 a year]. A skilled Goan working in Goa can expect to earn about $200 a month {$46 a week}. A Goan working as a landscaper or chef in Bermuda can expect to send home $100 to $200 a WEEK.

            This lower section, Goans, Filipinos, East Europeans, are working in an economy where wage rates are compared to wage rates in their lower income countries. Here the most critical issue is how much can be saved and repatriated to that lower income country. Here the hourly or annual rate of pay is much less important. Almost ir-relevant. Here the critical factor is the ability to work – even at straight time overtime – so that at least $150 to $350 – or even more – can be sent home every week.

            Workers in this section of the economy will happily share accommodations, share bikes, not splurge on flat panel TVs, not rush to get a new outfit for May 24th or Cup Match, and not take annual shopping trips to ‘Philly’. These workers spend very little in Bermuda’s retail sector.

            Even with a construction boom and a record number of ‘guest workers’ on the island, retail is not booming; but housing is crowded by lower paid guest workers who – by sharing accommodation – can actually pay higher than market rate rents; yet, as individuals, still pay far less than a Bermudian single-renter has to pay.

            And he – or she – still sends that $150 a week – $650 a month – home into an economy where those $150 ($650) Bermuda dollars have the same purchasing power – in that country – as $1,500 ($6,500) would have in Bermuda.

            Two Bermuda’s? Yes. Bermuda used to split along racial lines. Now Bermuda is re-dividing on economic lines.

            One group getting a Western rate. The other group getting non-Western rates. Bermudians are getting stranded in the bleak no-mans-land that’s opening up between these two growing Bermudas.

            Under existing and future economic conditions, all new hotel development will only – and can only – favour the group who will accept non-Western pay rates. Bermudians cannot afford to work for non-Western rates unless they accept un-Bermudian lifestyles and living conditions.

            There is a steadily growing pressure – a squeeze really – on the human beings who are defined as Bermudians. As humans beings will, Bermudians will react to that squeeze. Watch out when they do!

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