EFE (via) 14ymedio, Laura Becquer, Havana, 26 February 2023 — Cuba faces a crossroads in the midst of one of its biggest economic crises in history: how to recover when its society ages rapidly and does not have enough young people able to produce.
The Island now has the oldest population in Latin America and the Caribbean. Two out of ten Cubans (21.9%) are at least 60 years old, the director of the Center for Demographic Studies of the University of Havana (Cedem), Antonio Ajá, told EFE.
This means that of the 11.1 million Cubans, about 2.4 million exceed the barrier of six decades of life.
The academic emphasizes that this is the result of social policies implemented decades ago that have extended life expectancy (approximately 79 years for both sexes).
However, this brings with it a problem from an economic and social point of view.
“The economically active population that is smaller is a challenge for the social security systems, healthcare and the protection of the elderly,” he said.
Which means that there are more and more elderly and fewer young people of working age to sustain the economic activity of the country. And, in the long run, to finance the pension system.
Data from the National Office of Statistics and Information show that 99,096 births and 167,645 deaths occurred in 2021.
“Cuba has a demographic behavior similar to that of developed nations (low fertility, high life expectancy), but the difference is that they are countries that receive immigrants and also counteract demographic aging with their economic development,” he said.
“Dependent” people are also increasing: those who do not produce and live on their pensions after having contributed to the economy, Cuban economist Tamarys Bahamonde explained to EFE.
The retirement age in Cuba is 60 years (women) and 65 years (men) with a minimum monthly pension of 1,528 Cuban pesos (12 dollars at the official exchange rate and the equivalent of $8.70 in the extended informal market).
The loss of young people of productive age is explained, in large part, by the unprecedented migratory exodus that the country is experiencing.
Last year alone, more than 313,000 Cubans were intercepted by the United States at the southern border with Mexico. This represents 3% of Cuba’s total population.
The figure does not include the thousands who went to other destinations such as Mexico, Spain or South America.
This phenomenon was recognized a few days ago by Ángel Luis Ríos, general director of Productive Links of the state sugar agency, Azcuba.
Ríos assured the official newspaper Granma that the sugar mills — another engine of the economy — have a reduced and aged staff due to “the effect of migration,” and that this has translated into a deficit in the harvest.
“Cuba has a negative migratory balance since 1930 that was reinforced beginning in 1959 (when the Revolution triumphed), so it has lost population in full reproductive and productive capacity,” Professor Ajá said.
Internal migration is also negative with “depopulated and aged” rural areas, a “worrying” issue for example when it comes to producing food because there are no people to work the land, according to the expert.
Another reason for the labor flight is the lack of incentives. Cuba’s average salary is about 4,000 Cuban pesos ($32 at the official exchange rate).
The fertility rate in Cuba is 1.4 children per woman, one of the lowest in the region, for which the rate around 1.85 in 2022, according to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean.
To maintain the level of replacement in the population, a woman must have two children and one of them must be a girl, explained Ajá, who highlighted that “Cuba has been below that indicator since 1978, with extremely low values in recent years.”
For Bahamonde, meanwhile, “the very low birth rate has its cause in the economic crises that have been chaotic for society, especially for women because they have the responsibility to take care of the elderly.”
By 2030, elderly Cubans will represent 30% of a population that will not exceed 10 million, according to Professor Ajá.
Among the measures adopted by the Government to address the situation is the construction and maintenance of childcare centers, nursing homes and maternal homes, as well as supporting fertility programs and care for mothers with more than three children.
However, for Bahamonde, “the first thing is to respond to the serious economic situation and then think about the implementation of complementary policies that stimulate the birth rate.”
In the same vein, Ajá considers that “we must work to improve the economy and reflect its growth in increased income for families.”
“That has to be accompanied by policies that benefit the construction of housing, guarantee a solution to the problem of caring for the elderly and children and attract the Cuban population abroad,” added the director of Cedem.
Translated by Regina Anavy
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