Is The Caribbean Middle Class Genuine ?
The Caribbean Is One Nation
The Mahogany Coconut Group
The Mahogany Coconut Group
The current recession is wreaking havoc on the Caribbean middle class. This middle class emerged after the period of colonialism ended and the transformation from agricultural based economies, within the region, took root. The middle class is by nature easy to identify and difficult to define in the Caribbean. We are often left to wonder, whether it is grounded in financial/income considerations or its idiosyncrasies.
We are of the opinion that many professions are deemed middle class more by their social standings than their earnings. It is not uncommon, for us to describe workers such as: artisans, mechanics, fruit vendors and other small self-employed people as working class although their earnings may very well be higher than : bank workers(clerks), teachers, nurses, and police among others. Therein lies the problem when discussing our so-called middle class. 'Is it their pockets or attitudes?'
We have not been very eager to examine our societies in any great detail. Most of the academic offerings on the subject, are to be found in the sophisticated debate among intellectuals or what is otherwise referred to as the intelligentsia, who have yet to find a way to make such efforts readily available and easily comprehended by the broader society. Hence we are often served rather limited information of how our societies are actually developing and how best we can moderate such development in the interest of the region. One of the few intellectuals, who was generous in trying to define and explain the Caribbean society was the late Lloyd Best of Trinidad and Tobago. We have not seen any great effort to take up his mantle.
From our perspective, we see a middle class that is in a perpetual debt trap and one that cringes at the thought of having to pay for their children’s university education at the University of the West Indies, as is currently the case in Barbados. We see a middle class that is mimicking the lifestyles of other societies, which it cannot afford. We see a middle class, essentially made up mostly of Afro Caribbean citizens, that has no real wealth. Within this middle class is a form of sophisticated poverty that we need to examine very closely.
However, in the last three decades we have also seen the definite emergence of a very powerful Afro Caribbean upper middle class, comprising a very strong presence, of those who have are a part of the growing corporate/ political complex. These are high end professionals who are to be found in the fields of: medicine, politics, the legal profession and other interests such as real estate, accountancy and some of the service industries connected to off shore banks. And others wheeling and dealing within the aforementioned corporate political complex. Within this powerful group we also find our well paid academics who frequent the University of the West Indies.
We are therefore convinced that the gap between the rich and the poor in the region is widening. We are further convinced that the real working class and those working for below $10, 000USD. per year must now be considered the working poor. As for our middle class, we are convinced that its earnings have not kept up with its lifestyles and it is the biggest threat to economic prosperity. As unfortunate, as it may seem, while the children of the middle class, may very well be enjoying a relatively comfortable existence, the sad truth is that they will not inherit much wealth. The middle class of today is in real terms of wealth creation, doing as poorly as the working class from whence they came.
In other words , while a few have escaped into real wealth, the dream of genuine economic enfranchisement that would have created real wealth for the majority of Afro Caribbean peoples has yet to be realized. That is why we are forced to ask: How genuine is our Caribbean middle class?