Poverty Facts and Fiction

By Raffique Shah
July 18, 2010

PovertyEVERY time I hear someone parrot poverty numbers in my Trinidad and Tobago, I wince. Politicians, and many ordinary citizens, often accept as the “gospel truth” the amount of people in this country said to be living “below the absolute poverty line”, defined as US$1 a day. The estimated numbers range from 10 per cent to 20 per cent of the population, which suggests there are between 130,000 and 260,000 desperately poor people in our midst living on less than TT$6.37 a day. That’s around $190 a month.

These widely circulated and seemingly credible numbers are trotted out by some international agency or academic study. I always wonder how they determine the precise numbers. In the district where I live, which, I should explain, is no upscale, gated-community, but an ordinary one-time sugar cane plantation, I look deep and hard to find these poor sods who cannot afford two “doubles” a day. I don’t see any. Or maybe if they exist, they are hiding behind the proverbial fig leaves.

Listen, the fortnightly Muslim hustler who boards my home (why me? I often ask), and who ritually adopts the prayer stance (while he faces north, not east, eh) before he explains how he left three starving children at home, first tugged at my heart and relieved me of $5. When his visits—or raids—assumed timing like a soldier doing drill, I questioned his bona fides. So I reduced his “allocation” to $1. He didn’t seem impressed. But then he attacks most other homes on my short street, and, I imagine, scores of other homes as far as his legs can take him.

I use him as an example, but there are many others who are equally questionable. A few days ago a lady who infrequently “hits” my street, came a-begging: one dollar a person, I insisted, much to my wife’s visible shame. Of course, that lady, too, touched all homes on the street. If the residents were as mean as I was, she would have still earned close to $20 on my street alone. Again, like the bogus Muslim, try to add up her daily “earnings”. Surely, she must make at least $60 a day, just walking from house to house.

There are several aspects of this poverty business (well, thousands have turned it into a business, and big business at that!) that bothers me. Let me be clear on my stance: I know there is poverty in this country, something we should be ashamed of given our abundant resources. The problems here are manifold. In the main, they are the inequitable distribution of wealth, the flawed methodology used by welfare officers to determine who qualify for the many grants available to citizens, and political patronage that excludes one-half the poor, among similar deficiencies in the welfare system.

But we cannot exclude sheer laziness on the part of too many of our citizens, many of them “hardback” men and women who can easily get by if only they are prepared to work. In the midst of the 2007-2008 boom, when one could not find household help and farmers struggled to till the soil without hired labour, I used to marvel at the scores of young men I would see idling, hustling at the nearby junction. Bear in mind I’m located a few miles away from Point Lisas where “wuk” was easily available at that time.

In other words, while the capitalist economy and societal structure allow for pockets of poverty, there are also physically capable people who insist on living off the sweat of others who are stupid enough to actually work. Even more annoying is this: have you ever seen a “beggar” or “hustler” who is without a cellphone? I read some numbers recently that indicated T&T has a mobile “penetration” rate of 1.6 per person. What that means is each person carries around one-and-a-half phone(s)!

All of what I have written thus far, and much more that space constraint does not allow, suggests the presumed percentage of the population living on below US$1 a day is hogwash! In any case, the absolute poverty line in a country like ours should be TT$100 a day. The old age pensioner gets that now, and when the new Government increases the sum to $3,000 a month, pensioners will come closer to what I see as the minimum earnings every national should enjoy- $5,000 a month.

Recent per capita gross national income for this country stood at US$16,540 (or TT$104,000). That is what each person ought to be making a year—if we lived in a perfect world. We do not. The capitalist system allows for a few in the upper echelon of society to enjoy immense wealth, some to live very comfortably, while the majority of the population struggles to get by on bare essentials.

We cannot change that unless we change the economic system, which is hardly likely in a world sold on the notion that unbridled capitalism is the best invention since religion. By extension, this also means that poverty comes with the package. But let us not further demean ourselves and our country by suggesting that ten or 20 per cent of our people are starving. I boldly proclaim that no one in Trinidad and Tobago lives on less than US$1 a day.

23 thoughts on “Poverty Facts and Fiction”

  1. We need the capitalist system to survive. We need rich people with brains who can build business and help grow the economy. The government should not be the primary employer, rather small businesses should be the primary employer. Most develop nations allow people to come into their nation who have the business acumen to build the economy. When Hong Kong came under Chinese rule at the end of 1999, thousands of rich business people were looking for a new homes. Thousands were received into Canada. WHY? because the government understood that if you are bringing $250,000 into the economy, you are helping the banks in addition to helping the citizenry. Poverty will always be with us, no one can eliminate it, even in the richest nations it is not unusual to see hundred of alcoholics and drug abusers living on the street begging for change.

    1. When humans can eat money, drink money, build shelter and clothing from money, then and only then will your so-called “capitalist system” become useful to any society. Until then it is merely a tool used by the wealthy; and it by no means include a caveat for wisdom or intelligence, to allow them to live by the sweat of another human’s brow.

      1. When humans can eat money, drink money, build shelter and clothing from money, then and only then will your so-called “capitalist system” become useful to any society–karibkween.

        Money is merely a form of exchange in the capitalistic system. It is not the BE ALL or the END ALL of capitalism. What drives capitalism is the freedom to invest, new ideas, technology, equality, fair tax laws, a crime free society and an intelligent work force. Wealth is the result of this society functioning effectively. When this society fails to function effectively then money is meaningless. All the money in the bank is of NO USE if for instance crime is not under control or new ideas are not emerging, or technology is unavailable.

        An example of capitalism at its’ best is Sweden. Sweden is mountainous and does not have much mineral or physical resources, yet is one of the wealthy nations of the world. Why??? It is simply the genuis of the people that makes capitalism work, not money my friend.

        1. “The GDP per capita in Zimbabwe currently makes up $200, which is the lowest in the world. The unemployment level exceeds 94 percent, which makes many Zimbabweans flee to other neighboring states. Three million of the 11.7 million-strong population have already moved to South African Republic.
          For example, the price on one bottle of beer on July 4, 2008 skyrocketed from 100 to 200 billion Zimbabwean dollars in just one day.” Pravda.

          Here is an example of a nation that has a lot of money but nothing else working for it. Robert Mugabe has turn Zimbabwe into an anti-capitalistic nation. The indicators of success simply is not there. Lots of money but no economy. Zimbabwe is loaded with natural resources but the anti capitalistic indicators are there– “What drives capitalism is the freedom to invest, new ideas, technology, equality, fair tax laws, a crime free society and an intelligent work force”-Khem These things simply don’t exist. The problem with Zimbabwe is that Mugabe is killing the nation and the tribal are looking in the opposite direction.

          1. It’s why we in T&T quit attempting to be global moral policemen and women and instead focus on home. Let’s in the interest of truth ,post slavery reconciliation , and justice ,demand quick , and long overdue ,land reform before the next 25 years elapse , diamonds are found in some of the unmentionable lands across the nation , and politically motivated land grab , as well as unwholesome- non fake – pogroms ,begins in earnest, that lead to similar international outrage.


            To think that we the naive ,were of the view that this alleged African concern in Zimbabwe,was only about farming, ummmm?


          2. The poverty that Zimbabwe is currently experiencing is not from a lack of land or mineral resource. It is from a lack of capitalistic thinking. Somewhere along the process of time new ideas ceased, techonolgy was not embraced, and instead ethno-centric ideology overtook good reason and judgement. Historical wrongs were not corrected properly.

            Today the greatest adversary Zimbabwe faces is “FEAR”. Fear is the primary killer of new ideas or anything new and innovative. People are afraid to build businesses because of a dictatorship that might destroy their hard work. So hopeless & despair sets in and these are the internal killers of a nation. The oligarchy rules and the poor becomes poorer, the middle class disappears and the rich take their wealth and flee…. In the end poverty reigns…and capitalism dies a painful death.

  2. Where is our common sense? What all this waste Land from Caroni Limited Doing sitting there. The Problem is not so much upon Housing but Food Producing.Trini’s would wait until all their Traditional Seeds and Grains have become Obsolete and Gone- only to become dependent upon Genetic altered seeds from these Mega-Multiple Big Corporations that is Pursuing after the Food Chain of The World.
    This in return would create Pricing Sky-rocketing for Food. Yes! Ask the Farmers and they would tell you. Most of the Seeds they are using in Crops cannot produce offspring for another crop. They keep returning back to the Feed Depot for fresh seeds.
    In India : this cost Local farmers their lives, Yes! Hundreds of Farmers over the Past Decade have committed suicide because of this type of Debt that were created from this Principle from those who earned the Grains. I said all this to say that this is one of the Principle that is creating Poverty all around.
    Just as how Trinidad is Seen as the Financial HUB of the Caribbean, Why can’t Trinidad Produce it’s own Food ? we have lived to long to see the Agriculture Section of This Country been overlooked for to long. Invest in this sector, Start planting up all this waste land all over Caroni and central. Create Programs that would create Jobs for Young People.
    I remember Doing Agriculture Science in Secondary School. Why Teach this in School when their is no mechanism in place to use it? Let’s Start getting Real Here!! The Turnover from these Secondary Schools are Producing Young People By the Thousands of From School without aim and direction in Life.
    Agriculture is a sector that awaits this opportunity to create Jobs for thousands of our People. When the Sugar industry were removed from existence: we saw Thousands going on-employed.Local Fruits and Vegetables can be produced so the entire country can survive without dependence upon others for basic food need.Trinidad should still have this Sugar Cane industry, because Sugar is still a demand out there.
    This is an appeal to this New Government : Invest in this Sector of This Country, Create The Programs That in Return would create Jobs, Help get These Young and Unfortunate People involved in building an Industry that Would be Sustainable and Workable. This is a little Suggestion in dealing with the Poverty we are confronted with.

  3. Irrigate the Caroni River- Yes! Irrigate the Caroni River into Canals that would hold the water Supply for basic Farming purposes in Central. Flooding has always been a Major Problem in this Area.
    I know that this area is considered a Low Plain Area, but nothing is Impossible with the modern art of Technology. With Proper Irrigation Locks and Dug out Dams, the water Supply During the Dry Season Can be Used For a Proper Livelihood.Let us Remember the Drought that Occurred this Year, let us learn from these Mishaps.
    The Caroni River Begins way up in the East, Throughout it’s Trail into the Caroni Plains and into the Gulf; certain centers along the path can Divert the flow for use.Did we ever give much consideration to the River in the Past? This is one of Trinidad’s most Treasured River in it’s Geographical Outline.
    ” The Plight Of A River ”
    From Shore to Shore it begins and Ends
    The Complete Flow of the life of a River
    Needless to Care with Burdens to bear
    When all Streams flow in one Direction to Go
    Imagine the Depth of Toil It Do Bear

    No one seems to care about the Burden she bear
    The Lonesome Plight of a river running from year to year.
    The Plight Of a River
    Garbage Disposal often is Thrown
    As cast away burden with no Direction to go
    Always ends up within this flow

    With Clog up parts Broken banks do show
    Tears of water as Flood it go
    The Low surroundings often Drowns we do know
    Help Me! Dredge Me!
    Widen if you Please,
    Some form of Relief is my only need

    Fisherman’s Catch
    Ashes do flow
    Under My Toil is All I know
    Helping the land by watering you see
    Use me wisely before I reach the Sea
    Never to Rise in Dry season to be
    The Plight Of A River
    The Caroni River!
    (Copyrighted) Sam.

  4. Two Questions
    ! which is the biggest CAPITALIST COUNTRY IN THE world ?

  5. Want some facts and figures
    TRINIDAD non-contributed pension–Old Age Pension tt$3000.00 Per Month
    Minimum Wage tt$9.00 Per Hour =tt$1540.00 Per Month
    CANADA-Non contributed pension O.A.S Old Age Secutity
    Can$518.00 Per Month =tt$3211.00 Per Month
    Minimum Wage Can$10.25Per Hour Can$1773.00Per Month
    =tt$10930.00 Per Month
    U.S.A. Non Contributed Pension–Single PersonUS$1000.00
    Couple US$1500.00 Average US$750.00Per Month =tt$4725.00 Per Month
    Federal Minimum Wage US$7.25 Per Hour-US$1297.00Per Month
    Per Month
    U.K Pension -Single Person 97 Poundes per week.Couple 156PoundesPerWeek–Average 78 Per Week=335Poundes Per Month
    =tt$3077.00 Per Month
    Minimum Wage 5.93 Poundes Per Hour=1025 Poundes Per Month
    =tt49715.00 Per Month
    I do hope that you see the relationship.I do hope that the poor people will make do with their pension
    P.S I know that the Minimum Wage Earner has the initiative to manage on his SALARY.
    See You Later Aligator

    1. The $3000 that pensioners will be recieving in T&T is badly needed money. It is a blessing in disguise. In many parts of the world there are NO pension plans. However, in Trinidad there is respect for the elderly and this is a way to keep them independent of depending on their family. It is part of the poverty reduction program… Thanks to the UNC for intiating the increase and continuing to increase the pension of society’s most vulnerable. Our seniors.

      1. In case you are unaware this sort of government intervention is known as Socialism. I always find it curious that the ones who constantly spout the empty Capitalist rhetoric are the ones who are most appreciative and most willing to exploit the benefits of Socialism.

        1. In case you are unaware this sort of government intervention is known as Socialism. I always find it curious that the ones who constantly spout the empty Capitalist rhetoric are the ones who are most appreciative and most willing to exploit the benefits of Socialism.–Karibkween.
          Socialism is not a bad word. Capitalism is better word, however if government giving money to the elderly is socialism, then America and Canada are socialist nations. Further American/Canadian welfare systems give money to those who are unable to find work to ensure that they are taken care of. So where do you draw the line in defining socialism and capitalism.

          1. The United States gives money to people who are unable to find work? Are you talking about unemployment insurance? In order to receive that, you have to meet certain qualifications that include having worked for a particular company for a certain amount of time and being laid off. If you quit your job you are disqualified from such benefits. Also, it is unemployment insurance. You pay for it in advance. It’s your money that is deducted from your check and you pay taxes on your unemployment checks. Social Security is also taken out of your check. You get that when you retire, but it in itself is not a retirement plan.

  6. The bastion of Capitalism in the world is today in debt to the one remaining bastion of communism for trillions of dollars. This Khem regurgitate a whole heap of garbage that makes little sense. Look, the free market is great, but to make an argument that Zimbabwe is suffering because it did not embrace capitalism is stupid. You really need to take your conversation to kindergarden where you will find some parity, in terms of cognitive development.

    The economy of Sweden and many other European countries happens to be a mix bag. They are heavily socialist in areas of services and welfare. Everyone of the countries have free education from nursery to University, free health care, bocoo vacation time, and a lot of programs that are inconsistent with strict capitalist doctrine. Khem behaves like an idiot who hears something and proceeds to run with it with the idea that others are as dimwitted as he is.

    1. Look, the free market is great, but to make an argument that Zimbabwe is suffering because it did not embrace capitalism is stupid. You really need to take your conversation to kindergarden where you will find some parity, in terms of cognitive development.—Ruel.

      Ruel if given a choice to live in Zimbabwe or Sweden, which would you choose. My guess is you would choose Zimbabwe because you believe that Zimbabwe is the model African nation, the model capitalist nation. If you give the average Zimbabwean the same choice they would fly out of Zimbabwe in a heart beat. Three million already fled to South Africa and many more are contemplating the same. When three million citizens leave a nation, what exactly are they saying about that nation??? The fact is Ruel your posting are confusing at best and I wonder about your mental state….hmmm.

      1. Zimbabwe embraces capitalism, but they are paying the same price that Haiti has paid for defying the European Colonialist. The same countries that exploited Africa to build their capitalistic empires are the same countries that won’t allow African Nations with pride and backbone to compete. That is not an argument about capitalism, but rather an argument about defiance, racism, and pride. The pride of Zimbabwe and the racism of Europe is what is costing Zimbabwe and it’s people. It’s not their lack or want to be a capitalistic nation. They also didn’t have a strategy to make their country function when they showed their pride.

  7. Arguing with you khem is like arguing with a three year old. Pray tell or cut and paste that portion of my post from where you drew the conclusion that I was saying that Zimbabwe is a model African Nation. What kind of retarded shyte runs around your head and impells you to fabricate a point in order to make your argument.

    You are a fool man. I argued that it is stupid to blame the situation in Zimbabwe on its reluctance to adopt Capitalism. In addition, it is also naive and bordering on the obtuse to wax about Capitalism with respect to European Nations without taking cognizance of the ever important socialistic nuance in their economic and social structures. I provided examples of those nuances. Like all idiots who never expect their idiocrasy to be recognized you fabricated the insipid point about me believing that Zimbabwe was a model nation. We are communicating in english you nut. There is nothing in my previous post that suggest that Zimbabwe is a model nation. Boy, what a nut!!!!

    1. You are a fool man. I argued that it is stupid to blame the situation in Zimbabwe on its reluctance to adopt Capitalism. –Ruel.

      Stop changing your message. Consistency in communication is vitally important. You cannot jump like a frog all over an issue. Stick to what you think and defend it. This is what you said earlier on “to make an argument that Zimbabwe is suffering because it did not embrace capitalism is stupid”-Ruel. I intepret that to mean that by Zimbabwe not embracing capitalism it was a smart move according to you. Hence the model that you are holding up on anti-capitalism. That is all I am saying.

      You need to be decisive in your communication instead of presenting silly arguments. You appear to be a middle of road kinda person, difficult to understand, please communicate clearly and don’t just oppose because you think you smarter than the rest of us. This medium could be a place where you could learn something.

      1. Khem with all do respect i think you have a tainted idea about capitalism and the free market system. As such i would suggest it might be you too who could learn something.

        There is not and there never has been a free market system, governments and vested interest always control the market. You may in certain places be able to provide examples of the free market in action but to claim that free market capitalism is what we have or have ever had is a falsehood.

        The other thing you should recognise rather than claim the wealth as the holy grail that will lived up population is that wealth is a form of difference making, just like, race, gender, religion, nationality and all the stupid normative categories used in the world to divide and rule. It is a form of gated community where those with wealth have access to education, security, politics and much else while those with wealth do not. The other thing about wealth is that is it not achieved because you or someone else are better for the effort and work that you do but rather wealth is related to history and the luck of where and to whom one is born to. To many people ignore this fact and espouse a narrative of individualism as tho history has nothing to do with winners and loser.

        There is much else i might add to your commentary to contradict the faith you have in capitalism as the only way we can live in this world – in your defence you do seem to note when talking about state pensions that we have a form of state-run capitalism and not the free market form you begin discussing – however from your opening paragraph i sense you have much more reading and life experience to enjoy before this debate can go any further.

        And yes that was me being rude.

  8. In a capitalistic society poverty will always be with us. However, big government only waste money and prevents growth. TNT only appears to be a capitalistic society at certain economic levels. TNT also isn’t secure enough for a viable and innovated middle class that is driven by the private sector. There are too many people looking to take when no is the answer to gimmie. The line between the haves and the have nots is thin.

Comments are closed.