Trinidad experienced a massive boom between 2000 and 2008. That boom was reflected in government revenues. And you could smell the optimism when I first started travelling here around 2007.
Turns out that’s not as easy to answer as you would think. Trinidad has a very sophisticated statistical apparatus. They do good work. But the country has recently been going out of its way to make that work hard to access. The central bank has a statistical database that is okay; the Central Statistical Office is miserable.
So with the caveat that it is not clear that the data is comparable, doing to varying methodologies to adjust for unreported data. Here are some snapshots of median household income.
In 1980, the World Bank carefully analyzed the 1975-76 Household Budgetary Survey. After adjusting for under-reporting, it found that 57% of Trini households earned less than TT$499 per month ... which comes out to TT$120,466 per year in 2014 TT dollars.
Some time later, Shlomo Angel used the Continuous Sample Survey of Population to estimate incomes in 1997. He found a median income of $132,110 in 2014 TT dollars. So, some improvement over what is generally regarded to have been an awful two-decade period: the 50th percentile in 1997 earned about 10% more than the 57th percentile did back in 1976.
Finally, Charisse Griffith-Charles (UWI) and Robin Rajack (IADB) estimated that in 2014 the median household income was $126,700 ... slightly down on the level from before the boom. (The paper is here; scroll to find it, then go to page 8.)
Now, I am not sure how Griffith and Rajack produced their estimate or how it accounts for unreported income. So it is possible that median incomes have in fact increased. It is shameful that comparable data is not readily available. It exists, but you have to write the CSO; even then, you will get it in raw form.
But the indications are, and they match what you see on the ground, that the recent boom did not produce a great increase in middle class incomes. Nor did it result in a dramatic upgrading of the island’s physical infrastructure, despite the massive rise in the resources available to the government.
So where did the money go? Where is it going? More anon as I think on this question.