Driving Economic Equality in the Caribbean with SDG8 

By: Saraya Ganesh, Economic Analyst – First Citizens Economic Research Unit


Can you imagine a world where economic prosperity is not just a privilege for a few, but a fundamental right for all? Where decent work opportunities flourish, and inequalities diminish? This compelling vision forms the cornerstone of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a comprehensive framework urging collective action to eradicate poverty, safeguard the environment, and ensure widespread prosperity by 2030. There are 17 interconnected SDGs (Figure 1), outlining a roadmap toward a resilient future, and tackling global issues such as poverty, hunger, climate change, and gender equality.

In the Caribbean, where economic imbalances intertwine with environmental hurdles, the importance of SDG8 cannot be overstated. SDG8 encompasses driving efforts towards sustained, inclusive, and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment, and decent work for all.

SDG8’s core principles of fostering continual economic growth, ensuring full employment, and dignified work should be adopted by Caribbean nations with ambitions of forging inclusive societies and alleviating poverty. Data from Fitch shows that economic growth in the Caribbean has been positive, only interrupted by the global pandemic in 2020, and is projected to continue to record growth in economic activity in the short-to-medium term. Projections indicate growth of 2.8% in 2024, with further expansion anticipated at 3.5% by 2025 (Figure 2).

However, this growth may highlight a long-standing issue that persists throughout the region, that being, growth is not always translated into equitable opportunities for all citizens. High levels of youth unemployment persist, and informal employment remains prevalent in many Caribbean nations, hindering progress towards sustainable development goals. When discussing “youth unemployment,” it refers to the troubling scenario where individuals aged 15 to 24, despite being eager and capable of working, struggle to find employment opportunities. This not only reflects economic inefficiency but also undermines social cohesion and stability, ultimately constraining the potential productivity of a nation’s youth. On the other hand, “informal employment” encompasses work that operates outside government regulation or protection. The persistence of high youth unemployment and the prevalence of informal employment in Caribbean nations pose significant obstacles to achieving sustainable development goals. By addressing these challenges through targeted policies and interventions, Caribbean nations can pave the way for a more inclusive and prosperous future in the region. Data from the International Labour Organization indicates that the youth unemployment rate stands at 14.4% for the Caribbean region, more than double the global average rate of 6.5%. Additionally, the average rate of informal employment in the labour market across the region was 48% as of mid-2023, with some countries surpassing 70%. Hence, SDG8’s emphasis on encouraging productive jobs, entrepreneurship, and innovation deeply aligns with the needs of the Caribbean, providing a framework to tackle these urgent issues while nurturing resilient and inclusive economies.

Jamaica’s Tourism-Centric Economy and Labour Market Trends…

Jamaica’s economic performance is closely tied to its tourism sector, which has long served as a cornerstone of economic development. With robust linkages to various industries, tourism not only contributes significantly to Jamaica’s GDP but also plays a pivotal role in job creation. According to the most recent data from the Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ), the tourism industry directly employs 175,000 Jamaicans and generates indirect employment for another 354,000 individuals. Moreover, it provides stimulus to other key sectors of the Jamaican economy such as construction, banking and finance, manufacturing, as well as utilities, agriculture and fisheries.

Over the last three decades, Jamaica’s tourism sector has witnessed remarkable expansion, boasting a cumulative growth rate of 35%, surpassing the overall economic growth rate of 10%. This remarkable trend highlights the sector’s resilience and its capacity to navigate various economic challenges adeptly. Despite facing vulnerabilities, particularly concerning climate-related disruptions, Jamaica has demonstrated significant progress in fortifying its economic resilience, a critical facet of SDG8’s agenda, which prioritizes inclusive economic advancement and the fostering of job opportunities.

Recent economic indicators highlight Jamaica’s noteworthy advancements. The World Bank estimates that real GDP surged by 2.9% in the initial half of 2023, marking a return to pre-pandemic GDP levels, primarily propelled by the expansion of the tourism sector and heightened exports. Looking forward, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) foresees a moderate GDP growth trajectory in the medium term, reflecting a slowdown in economic activity globally. Jamaica’s GDP growth is estimated to have been 2% by for 2023, forecasted to ease to an estimated 1.8% in 2024 (Figure 3).

On the labour market front, data from the Ministry of Finance, Jamaica, indicates that the unemployment rate declined to a historic low of 4.2% in October 2023 (Figure 4), underscoring the favourable outcomes of increased economic activity and expansionary policy measures. Jamaica experienced notable enhancements in employment, witnessing substantial upticks across various sectors such as services, real estate, and construction. Youth unemployment also saw marked improvements in Jamaica, as it has been on a downward trend from its peak of 38.5% in April 2013 to 12.6% according to the latest data as of October 2023.

However, challenges remain, particularly surrounding informality in the labour market. The latest Voluntary National Review (VNR) for Jamaica highlights the enduring issue of high levels of informal employment with recent data suggesting 453,500 individuals engaged in the informal sector in 2020, roughly 46.8% of non-agricultural employment. While this is a decline from 477,200 in 2018. The informal sector still contributes to a significant portion of GDP (44%).  Despite these positive trends, concerns persist regarding the quality of employment, given ongoing informality and fluctuations in average work hours compared to pre-pandemic levels.

Jamaica’s Ongoing Efforts….

In its pursuit of adhering to SDG8, Jamaica is actively fortifying resilience across economic, social, and environmental domains. Through prudent fiscal and monetary policies and cross-sector collaboration, Jamaica is mitigating risks and driving economic recovery, evident in its robust tourism sector. Initiatives such as The Global Tourism Resilience and Crisis Management Centre underscore Jamaica’s dedication to bolstering resilience within the tourism industry.

Furthermore, initiatives to curb informality in the economy include partnerships with the International Labour Organization (ILO) to offer technical training and support for micro and small business operators, especially in sectors like agriculture and fisheries. The government is also rolling out policies to streamline business formalization processes, enhance the ease of doing business, and engage at-risk youth through initiatives such as the Youth Innovation Centres and the Housing, Opportunity, Production, and Employment (HOPE) Programme. These concerted efforts aim to forge a more resilient and sustainable future for Jamaica’s populace, aligning with the objectives of SDG8.

Qatar: A Model for SDG8 Success…

Qatar shines as a beacon of sustainability, exemplifying the principles set forth in SDG8 through its remarkably low unemployment rate, and consistent GDP growth except for the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. This accomplishment is attributed to the nation’s strategic economic diversification efforts. Despite its heavy reliance on industries like oil and gas, petrochemicals, and construction, Qatar has adeptly diversified its economy, fostering inclusive growth across various sectors. The nation’s abundant hydrocarbon resources have propelled it to extraordinary economic heights, with the oil and gas sector prominently driving both GDP and government revenues.

Qatar ranks among the wealthiest nations globally, boasting one of the highest per capita GDP figures, estimated at USD82,000 in 2023 and projected to rise to approximately USD85,000 in 2024 (Figure 5). The country’s economic trajectory, as forecasted by the IMF, reflects moderate yet consistent progression, with GDP growth rates estimated to be 2.4% in 2023 and 2.2% in 2024, indicating sustained economic resilience and stability.

Qatar’s labour market exhibits remarkable stability, with an impressively low unemployment rate of about 0.1% (Figure 6) according to the World Bank, highlighting the nation’s success in promoting dignified employment and economic growth. However, challenges persist, including heavy reliance on expatriate labour and vulnerability to global labour market fluctuations, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. While technological advancements have boosted productivity among skilled workers, concerns remain about potential job losses for unskilled labourers, hindering SDG8’s goal of sustainable economic growth. Gender disparities in the workforce, worsened by shifts to remote education, also pose obstacles to achieving SDG8’s aim of gender equality and empowerment.

Qatar’s efforts to provide full and dignified employment opportunities, especially for youth and women, are attributed to comprehensive labour market reforms. These reforms include establishing a worker support fund, enforcing workplace safety measures, raising the minimum wage, and setting up labour visa centres. Collaborative efforts with the International Labour Organization aim to further improve legislation, grievance mechanisms, and migrant worker education, aligning with SDG8 objectives.

Unlocking Caribbean Prosperity through SDG8…

Embracing SDG8 in the Caribbean offers a multitude of advantages, propelling the region towards a more promising future. SDG8 nurtures economic growth, leading to increased income, poverty reduction, and enhanced living standards, ultimately boosting prosperity across Caribbean communities. Through a targeted focus on job creation, especially for marginalized groups like youth and women, SDG8 promotes social inclusivity and stability, driving the region’s economic momentum. Furthermore, SDG8 ensures decent work by guaranteeing fair wages, safe working conditions, and opportunities for career advancement, thereby elevating individual well-being and dignity. By addressing inequalities and fostering entrepreneurship and innovation, SDG8 fosters a vibrant business environment conducive to sustainable practices, fostering economic resilience and diversity throughout the Caribbean. Additionally, by championing environmental sustainability, SDG8 safeguards the Caribbean’s natural heritage for future generations.

SDG8 Obstacles in the Caribbean Region…..

Pursuing SDG8 in the Caribbean reveals a range of daunting obstacles shaped by the region’s intricate socio-economic dynamics and environmental conditions. One of the biggest obstacles is the heavy dependence on tourism, which drives economic growth but exposes nations to vulnerabilities during external shocks such as global economic downturns, hindering efforts to broaden the economic base. Moreover, pervasive informality in employment, especially in sectors like agriculture and construction, exacerbates income inequality and socio-economic vulnerabilities. This occurs because informal workers often receive lower wages, lack access to benefits such as healthcare and pensions, and are more vulnerable to exploitation. Additionally, the Caribbean’s susceptibility to climate change-induced disasters adds complexity, requiring resilient strategies and adaptation measures. Moreover, youth unemployment and gender disparities in the labour market pose significant threats to social cohesion and women’s empowerment. Addressing these challenges calls for collaborative action from governments, civil society, and international partners to enact tailored policies and initiatives that promote inclusive economic growth, decent work, and sustainable development across the Caribbean.


In the Caribbean, the pursuit of Sustainable Development Goal 8 (SDG8) entails challenges and opportunities. Reliance on tourism, informal employment, and susceptibility to climate change are notable obstacles. Nevertheless, collaboration provides a way forward. Success hinges on economic diversification, education investment, and climate resilience enhancement. Gender equality, promotion of formal employment, and sustainable business practices are also critical. Through unified efforts, the Caribbean can unlock its potential, promoting inclusive prosperity and environmental sustainability. Together, we can forge a resilient future for the region.


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