That the 2022 census indicates about a quarter of households live in poverty (see Friday/Saturday edition) should not come as any big surprise. Salaries, pensions and social allowances in St. Maarten are notoriously low compared to the cost-of-living including rent and a decent existence on less than 1,651 Netherlands Antillean guilders per month is near impossible.
The latter amount is based on a threshold of the European Union (EU) stating that families making less than 60% of the median pay are at risk. In this case it regards NAf. 2,750 a month, which is already hard to get by on.
About 10% even have to do so with under NAf. 516 a month. So while a monthly average of NAf. 3,979 per household sounds better, the differences in prosperity are huge.
Renters (61.6%) spend an average NAf. 3,552 and homeowners (36.8%) with a mortgage NAf. 5,160. Single-adult households on average actually spend more (NAf. 2,468) than they earn (NAf. 2,241) and the same is true for single parents with more than one child at respectively NAf. 2,914 and NAf. 2,814. This often puts these vulnerable groups in a debt cycle they can’t get out of.
Some 7.1% of respondents said they had to skip a meal in the past year. Another 7.4% either cut down on portions or did not eat at all.
If these figures seem sobering, it’s probably because they are. The question remains what can be done about this situation.
Raising the minimum wage and old age pension AOV alone is not the answer, although indexation certainly seems justified. Increased personnel expenses are usually reflected in consumer prices, sparking inflation that also affects the country’s competitive position.
A significant expansion of the so-called basket of basic goods under government-set maximum rates will no doubt prove helpful, especially since the recent controls. Several supermarkets were fined for selling related items at higher prices than allowed, which ought to serve as deterrent for everyone involved in the grocery business to keep it honest.