It’s not like we haven’t heard it all before, but as time goes on, the full impact of Bermuda’s ageing population becomes a harsher reality with increasing challenges for a small island like Bermuda.
In terms of dollars and cents, the latest Budget Statement highlighted the mammoth economic challenges presented by the island’s ageing population, the fastest growing segment in Bermuda.
To be clear, Premier David Burt told MPs on Friday: “It is expected that last year will mark the fourth consecutive year that deaths exceeded births in Bermuda.
“The latest projections, based on recent statistics, state that 25 percent of our population is expected to be senior citizens by 2026.
“Additionally, residents have left Bermuda due to the economic challenges that we currently face, especially in our tourism industry with the closure of our largest hotel.”
To put it bluntly, he said: “We have a demographic challenge in Bermuda, and that challenge will not magically resolve itself.
“It requires strong leadership to implement policies that address the issues while ensuring Bermudians beneﬁt from economic progress.
“If we do not reverse these trends, it will lead to economic disaster for Bermuda,” said Premier Burt.
“Population growth is not simply an option for Bermuda, it is a necessity for our survival.
“It is not possible for Bermuda’s economy to grow while our population declines and ages.
“A declining population in a small island state increases the cost of living.
“An ageing population increases the cost of healthcare.
“A shrinking workforce puts future pensions at risk.”
Most concerned about the island’s declining population, Mr Burt said: “These trends must be reversed, our population and workforce must grow, and for that to happen we must create jobs through domestic or foreign investment.
“This growth of jobs does not mean that all persons need to be imported for the roles to be ﬁlled.
“If we do our job to make Bermuda a fairer place to live and work, there are Bermudians who will return.”
What the Premier based that anticipated return on, remains unknown and may be questionable at best, when it comes to the circumstances driving the ongoing exodus of Bermudians out of Bermuda.
Many who left have vowed never to return to the island under no circumstances, particularly as it relates to the cost of living on this island, not to mention parents shipping their young Black sons out as well.
In terms of population growth, however, the Premier added: “It is vital that we shift from the false choice of ‘is population growth good or bad’ to a mindset of ‘growth is essential’ – how do we ensure that it beneﬁts Bermudians who live in Bermuda.”
The immediate answer to that question could very well be – who knows?
What we do know is that the Progressive Labour Party government has promised comprehensive immigration reform for years.
To date, that has yet to happen.
And then there’s the controversial issues associated with the island’s political track record on immigration policies.
On that note Mr Burt said: “Immigration policy may be controversial, but economic and demographic realities should not be.
“In a modern and globalised economy, where people do not need to live in Bermuda to work for Bermudian companies, and with an ageing populace and infrastructure, we will not ﬁx the burning issues of high taxes, high cost of living and weak business demand without increasing the number of people that live and work in Bermuda.
“The other side to the economic argument for population growth is the desperate need for small businesses to survive and thrive.
Photo: Town Cut St George’s Bermuda Tourism
“We see that small businesses in Bermuda are hurting and traditional local retail has been severely impacted by the pandemic. They welcome temporary assistance from the Bermuda Economic Development Corporation, but what every business owner wants, whether large or small, is more customers to whom they can sell their goods or services.
“If our economic pie does not expand, and our local entrepreneurs are ﬁghting over the same 60,000 customers, there will be little collective growth. More jobs and a growing population leads to more opportunity for entrepreneurship, more opportunity for growth, and more opportunity for wealth creation,” said Mr Burt.
He also noted that 15 Economic Investment Certiﬁcates “modiﬁed an existing policy to ensure it better beneﬁted Bermudians”, which “changed the existing policy to require those who wished to reside in Bermuda to make investments that beneﬁt residents, either through support for education, sporting clubs, charities, debt reduction, new businesses, real estate or other vital investments”.
“This government knows and understands what is required to build the economy, but we also know that economic growth cannot leave Bermudians as spectators to success; jobs can be created through local investment as well,” said Mr Burt.
Reaffirming the Government’s pledge in 2019 to “allow Bermudians to access their pension funds that are invested overseas to invest in local Bermudian companies”, he said he “made that pledge because I have faith that Bermudians can look at what they have, assess the risks and decide, if they wish, to make a bet on their future”.
“If they are conﬁdent in their plans, they should be allowed to pledge a small portion of their pension savings to invest in starting a business or a business startup to further the Government’s goal of creating a nation of owners,” he added.
“Just as we have opened up avenues for additional foreign investment, we must make it easier for Bermudians to pool their resources and invest in their island.
“These changes will be implemented this year to increase domestic investment that will create jobs, and in turn, stabilise and eventually increase Bermuda’s population,” he added.
But he stressed that “changing these demographic trends will not happen overnight, it will take time”.
In closing that section of the Budget Statement, the Premier stated: “While there will be an economic boost this year with increased business from tourism, this Government recognises the challenges being faced by residents who need additional support and relief from Bermuda’s high cost of living now.”