Volume 9, Number 4 (2004)
Going Behind the Statistics on Poverty in Trinidad and Tobago
Ralph Henry
Beyond academic circles, there has been an expanding interest in Trinidad and Tobago, on the level of poverty in the country. Newspaper columnists and many others have joined a debate that is, unfortunately, largely based on speculation. Poverty and its measurement have always been contentious issues, more so when political contestation is imported into the debate. There has been a recent report attributed to the UNDP, which suggests a rather high level of poverty for the country, based on the use of purchasing power parities - PPP. It is not clear to this author how the PPP was generated, nor by whom. Moreover, PPPs have a limited utility and although there has been substantial work done on improving it as a tool for cross-country comparisons, there still remain difficulties that suggest that care needs to be exercised in deriving too much from it. This short paper will look at some of the data that are available and will rely on one recent study that can claim to be anchored on firm statistics and methodology in casting some light on the matter. A working hypothesis is that whatever the estimate of poverty, it is the dynamics of poverty identified in data beyond the estimate, that provide better insights into the development issues faced in attacking poverty.