Money in, money out…

I have not gone through a day in Jamaica since I came back in June without someone asking me for money. I’m not really surprised and I try not to get annoyed. Times are hard for many people and if there’s a hint that someone has means, they become ready targets.

If you participate in certain kinds of activities, this pressing for money is going to happen more, and it may persist and may also come with other requests. Take, for instance, an afternoon playing golf yesterday.

The caddy wants his money, and that’s fine because they are supposed to be paid. But, he wanted more than he was due to get. He also asked for ‘help’ because he was due to play in a tournament in Montego Bay. Reasonable? He has to pay his taxi or bus fare. If he wins a prize, this may be in cash.

I noticed my car was clean and shiny, after the heavy rain storm that had occurred while I was paying. “Hey, mi boss!” I heard, as an old, bearded man ran alongside a fence paralleling my path. I asked if he’d washed my car today, and also during the week. “Yes. A mi dweet. Yu ‘appy?” I was not unhappy, but my car hadnt needed a wash. I could have done with the insides being cleaned out of all the elementary school garbage that had built up in a week of ferrying 10 year-olds around. I asked him if he just washed the cars if he thought they needed it. He nodded. It’s a good service and as a service done every week or fortnight it would work for me. But, the man knew he was onto a good swing. He has about 4 hours to tackle cars, and there’s no end of possible needs during the course of a day. I asked someone how much I should give him. “Five bills, mi boss.” I took out J$500 and handed it over. It’s the going rate for a car wash. I’ve been on this little path before, when I was visiting the hospital over recent weeks, and the ‘security’ man made good use of the ‘captives’ in the car park. Give both people and those like them an A for effort and another A for enterprise.

When my father was in hospital during the past few weeks, almost every day one of the security guards at the hospital was asking if I could help “buy a food”. I imagine these men and women get low wages. They do not seem to have great qualifications, which might command higher pay. When I saw them sitting in their guard posts or on a chair outside a ward, they did not appear to be doing very much, apart from checking text messages on their cell phones.

Bottom line: money is short or tight for many people. Life may be hand-to-mouth for many. Any extra that can be made is well worth it. Does it seems likely that people in such circumstances have much money to spare?

Earl Jarrett, General Manager of Jamaica National Building Society, commented this week that Jamaica has amongst the world’s lowest saving rates.  broken-piggy-bank-small-1The figures he cited showed the rate for Jamaica at 16 percent for Jamaica. For comparison, he cited 25 percent for Trinidad and 47 percent for China. He argued that this was ‘linked to the public’s generally limited access to financial services and the lack of a cultural emphasis on saving’.

World Bank data show a very different picture, with Jamaica among a raft of countries with very low saving rates, including the USA and many developed European countries. Low domestic savings are less of a problem if a country can take advantage of foreign savings.

Also, culturally, Jamaicans have a history of saving, e.g. though partner systems. Lack of opportunities through financial institutions is not something the public can solve!

Right now, many Jamaicans have little income left over to save. I commented yesterday that, after a series of large price hikes for taxi and bus fare, electricity and water rates, many people are right up against the wall, if not under water–to mix metaphors.