The unemployment rate in Trinidad and Tobago is deflated because State programmes soak up excess labour, giving the impression the economy is in full employment when it really is not, economist Indera Sagewan-Alli has said.
In his budget presentation on Monday, Finance Minister Larry Howai said the latest statistics from 2011 showed the unemployment rate stood at 4.9 per cent.
Speaking at a post-budget breakfast meeting hosted by the American Chmaber of Commerce at the Hilton Trinidad yesterday, Sagewan-Alli said programmes like the Unemployment Relief Programme, CEPEP, On the Job Training (OJT) and others gave the impression that there was full employment, but the real unemployment rate without these was more like 16 to 20 per cent.
"You said we have full employment but when that is artificially generated then we must be concerned. Just before the 2010 election a group of economists calculated that CEPEP and URP alone accounted for about ten per cent of employment in Trinidad and Tobago...We are celebrating the five per cent because it is State budgetary allocation annually coming in to soak up the labour force," she said.
"An economy cannot be sustainable if that is happening. It can only be sustainable if the productive sectors are creating opportunities (for employment). Yes, the State should create 'short-gap' employment in tough economic times but we must be real to the fact that it is only a temporary solution until we can get back to where we can generate the employment we require."
Howai, whose presentation followed Sagewan-Alli, conceded that there was in fact an "underemployment" issue in the country.
"We have a relatively low unemployment level. There is still a significant amount of underemployment; you need to do something to be more efficient, but still make sure you deal with the level of vulnerability that is a big part of society," he said.