Care and support through remittances a challenge for some

By Pat Watson Wednesday November 21 2012 in Opinion
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Before you know it, Christmas will be knocking at the door again. For some people, the pressure is on not just for the annual shopping frenzy but also to fill that barrel and get it shipped off to the folks back home.


We always remember the needs of the ones so far away yet so near at heart. And no matter how tough the times can get here, there is still a commitment to being charitable to the family far away, whether it is by sending that barrel or sending money. And it’s not just at Christmastime.


Despite the economic challenges many immigrants face here, Jamaicans in Canada sent over $22 million in remittances back to their homeland in September alone, part of over $154 million in September remittances, according to the Bank of Jamaica (BOJ).


For the first nine months of 2012, BOJ tabulated that remittances to Jamaica totaled more than $1.52 billion, mainly from the U.S., Canada and Britain.


Other sources point to 25 per cent of households in Jamaica being dependent on regular remittances to some extent and most of these households are headed by women. This matters because unemployment in Jamaica, at over 12 per cent, affects women of peak working age, 20 to 44, almost two-to-one compared with men in the country. But thanks to the support they are also less likely to seek local employment or are more likely to work part-time hours if they are employed.


Free trade agreements flushed manufacturing productivity out of Jamaica when it became flooded with cheaper imports. So much of employment in Jamaica now is in the service sector that one has to wonder whatever became of other areas of productivity, like farming. Maybe now that a number of American states have voted to legalize marijuana the farming sector will pick up in Jamaica. But I digress.


Funds remitted are such that Jamaica’s government acknowledges the impact on the economy and factors the figures into annual budgets. Representing nearly15 per cent of the country’s gross national product (GNP), which is higher than earnings from bauxite, there is now talk of taxing remittances as a way to increase government revenue.


Among Third World economists back in the 1970s, dependency theory aimed to explain the relationship between wealthy colonialist nations and the resource rich but economically struggling former colonies tied to those wealthy nations. This notion held that poor countries were poor because it suited the colonialists to keep them that way, so that the former colonies could not get by without handouts of grants and loans from the nations that absorbed their wealth and to which they would be perpetually indebted – perpetually dependent, in other words.


But given the new anchoring effect of remittances, given the migration of Jamaicans in search of work and given the latest model for temporarily allowing workers into this country, we can see that this dependency has morphed into its 21st century version.


Canada, itself a former colony, albeit one that did not undergo the kind of relationship slave labour colonies had with its British ruler, has taken up the baton. Workers from Jamaica come here each year to do the heavy lifting and hard work they did for centuries under British rule without receiving any wages. Forced labour on farms, for example, carried out by men who looked then as they do now has been replaced with wage labour most Canadians would not accept.


Many Jamaicans who come to Canada these days, and there are fewer coming now than a generation ago, may not face the same level of discrimination as the earlier migrants, but they also have less opportunity to move up. Yet how do they explain to the folks back home that they are not fulfilling the dream of achieving economic mobility?


There is an expectation from the folks back home that once established, those lucky enough to have left will send them a little something regularly to keep them going. Here then is the new dependency.


What would happen if the folks living abroad put pride aside and stopped “killing with kindness” those back home and told them the truth; that many are struggling here too; that it is hard to pay all the bills and also regularly send money home; that life here for most is not a doorway to riches; that, on the contrary, it is still just as much of a struggle?


A note on an unequal exchange…


If Calgary bests Toronto and wins the Grey Cup on Sunday, according to the wager made between Toronto Mayor Rob Ford and Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, Calgary food banks will receive Ford’s weight in food donations, some 300 pounds. Yet another reason to switch mayors.


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