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The colorful images of Jamaica presented in travel brochures don’t tell the whole story. As in most countries, beautiful, affluent places do exist. But in many other areas of Jamaica, poverty is the norm.

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Jamaica’s economy has been in decline since 1974, when the energy-deficient country was hit hard by a rise in fuel costs. In addition, a worldwide recession reduced foreign demand for Jamaican products.

Housing has become another problem for Jamaica’s urban poor. When people move to Kingston in search of work, it’s often difficult for them to find jobs. Some people become homeless, while others are forced to accept low-paying jobs. To afford food and other necessities, they move into abandoned properties. Some become squatters, building shacks of cardboard, wood, and rusted tin on land owned by others. As Jamaicans have become more desperate and frustrated, violent crime has also become more prevalent.

Jamaica was the first country assisted by Food For The Poor. Key developments include:

  • In 2013, the construction of 2,456 housing units
  • Since inception, over 36,000 houses have been built
  • The building or renewal of 50 schools in 50 months. Watch a video of this 50/50 campaign, here.

Learn more about our projects in Jamaica


Jamaica Map Jamaican Country Flag

The island ― discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1494 ― was settled by the Spanish early in the 16th century. The native Taino Indians, who had inhabited Jamaica for centuries, were gradually exterminated and replaced by African slaves. England seized the island in 1655 and established a plantation economy based on sugar, cocoa, and coffee. The abolition of slavery in 1834 freed a quarter million slaves, many of whom became small farmers. Jamaica gradually obtained increasing independence from Britain, and in 1958 it joined other British Caribbean colonies in forming the Federation of the West Indies. Jamaica gained full independence when it withdrew from the Federation in 1962. Deteriorating economic conditions during the 1970s led to recurrent violence as rival gangs affiliated with the major political parties evolved into powerful organized crime networks involved in international drug smuggling and money laundering. Violent crime, drug trafficking, and poverty pose significant challenges to the government today. Nonetheless, many rural and resort areas remain relatively safe and contribute substantially to the economy.

Fast Facts

  • Area ― 4,244 square miles (Jamaica is slightly smaller than Connecticut)
  • Population ― 2,825,928 (July 2010 est.)
  • Capital ― Kingston
  • Independence Day ― Aug. 6 (1962)
  • Languages ― English, English patois
  • Religion ― Protestant 62.5% (Seventh-Day Adventist 10.8%, Pentecostal 9.5%, Other Church of God 8.3%, Baptist 7.2%, New Testament Church of God 6.3%, Church of God in Jamaica 4.8%, Church of God of Prophecy 4.3%, Anglican 3.6%, other Christian 7.7%), Roman Catholic 2.6%, other or unspecified 14.2%, none 20.9% (2001 census)
  • Currency ― Jamaican dollar (JMD) / 85 JMD = $1 USD (Oct. 2010 est.)
  • Unemployment ― 12.9% (2009)
  • Literacy rate ― Total population: 87.9% | Male: 84.1% | Female: 91.6%
    (Defined: People age 15 and older who have ever attended school) (2003 census)


By Age: (2010 est.)

0-14 years: 31.4% (male 451,310 / female 436,466)
15-64 years:61.1% (male 851,372 / female 875,132
65 years and over: 7.5% (male 94,833 / female 116,815)

Median Age: (2010 est.)

Total: 23.9 years
Male: 23.4 years
Female: 24.5 years

Infant Mortality: (2010 est.)

Total: 15.22 deaths / 1,000 live births
Male: 15.81 deaths / 1,000 live births
Female:14.61 deaths / 1,000 live births

Life Expectancy: (2010 est.)

Total: 73.53 years
Male: 71.83 years
Female: 75.3 years

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