When it comes to wealth, Jamaica is a land of extremes. On the northern coast—home to tourism—and in the suburbs of Kingston, wealthy Jamaicans live in first-rate housing, visit shopping centers featuring the best imported goods, and enjoy an elevated standard of living. Living in such suburbs as Cherry Gardens, Arcadia Gardens, and Forest Hills, the wealthy send their children to private schools and to universities abroad, and employ private security forces. Yet not far from these wealthy enclaves a significant number of poor Jamaicans live in squalor, with poor housing, limited food supply, and inadequate access to clean water, quality health care, or education. Kingston's poor congregate in the slum districts of Trench Town, Jones Town, and Denham Town, where
|GDP per Capita (US$)|
|SOURCE: United Nations. Human Development Report 2000; Trends in human development and per capita income.|
water supplies are often polluted and violent youth gangs clash with police for control of the streets.
The wealth is distributed largely along racial lines, reflecting Jamaica's slave-plantation heritage. The descendants of black slaves tend to be among the poorest classes in Jamaica, while white and mixed-race descendants of plantation owners and traders tend to be better off. These extremes are reflected in the nation's distribution of income: in 1996 the wealthiest 20 percent of Jamaicans controlled 43.9 percent of the wealth, while the poorest 20 percent controlled only 7 percent. In fact, the poorest 60 percent controlled just 34.3 percent of wealth. Due in large part to the decline of services in urban slums, the percentage of people with access to safe water has declined from 96 percent in the period from 1982-85 to 70 percent in the period from 1990-96; access to sanitation facilities (plumbed toilets) has dropped from 91 percent to 74 percent in the same period.
Jamaica's rural poor also face difficult circumstances, for many workers must try to grow their own crops or participate in the informal economy —in some cases, the drug trade—in order to survive. Both the rural and urban poor have suffered from the long decline in the quality of social services provided to Jamaicans. Though the British built a well-developed health and education system on the island in the post-World
|Distribution of Income or Consumption by Percentage|
|Survey year: 1996|
|Note: This information refers to expenditure shares by percentiles of the population and is ranked by per capita expenditure.|
|SOURCE: 2000 World Development Indicators [CD-ROM].|
|Household Consumption in PPP Terms|
|Country||All food||Clothing and footwear||Fuel and power a||Health care b||Education b||Transport & Communications||Other|
|Data represent percentage of consumption in PPP terms.|
|a Excludes energy used for transport.|
|b Includes government and private expenditures.|
|SOURCE: World Bank. World Development Indicators 2000.|
World War II years, a lack of government funding for schools and hospitals has meant that these services have declined in quality over the years. Despite this deterioration, 93 percent of Jamaican primary-level students are enrolled in school, and a government-funded health-care system ensures that Jamaicans have access to adequate health care.
Jamaica's high inflation and dependence on imports—especially for food, gasoline, and clothing—has meant that the poor have had to spend a high amount of their relatively small incomes on the necessities of life. Despite governmental food subsidies for the poor, similar to food stamp programs (vouchers that can be exchanged for food in grocery stores) in the United States, most poor Jamaicans spend more than half of their income on food and beverages. The difficulty that many Jamaicans face to earn a living on the island has contributed directly to the high immigration rate of the country and to its very low population growth. Despite the difficulties faced by Jamaica's poor, a study conducted by the Overseas Development Council judged that Jamaica's quality of life was better than both Mexico and Venezuela and equal to that of neighboring Trinidad and Tobago.