4.5 million Pinoys jobless in 2020
MANILA, Philippines — With the COVID-19 pandemic and the stringent lockdown shuttering thousands of businesses, about 4.5 million Filipinos became jobless this year and the unemployment rate jumped to 10.4 percent — the highest in 15 years, the government reported on Thursday.
But as quarantine restrictions gradually eased and the economy opened up enough to allow workers to return to their jobs, the jobless rate also eased to 8.7 percent in October, National Statistician Dennis Mapa told a press conference, citing the latest preliminary results of the Philippine Statistics Authority’s quarterly labor force survey (LFS).
Labor groups, however, found no reason to celebrate, calling the supposed decline in unemployment an “illusion.”
The unemployment rate in October—the highest across all the October LFS rounds since the Philippines adopted its current definition of employment in 2005—was equivalent to 3.8 million Filipinos in the labor force who were jobless.
The jobless rate in October was below the 10 percent (equivalent to 4.6 million Filipinos without jobs) in July and 17.6 percent (7.2 million jobless Filipinos) in April—the highest-ever quarterly unemployment rate resulting from the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) imposed in areas with high COVID-19 cases from mid-March to May, which stopped 75 percent of the economy.
Compared with October 2019, this year’s unemployment rate was higher than 4.6 percent a year ago, or 2 million jobless people six months before the pandemic spread to the Philippines.
As some students who belonged to the labor force—Filipinos 15 years old and above—returned to school in October, the labor force declined to 43.6 million from 45.9 million a quarter ago and 44.6 million a year ago, Mapa said.
But the participation rate among members of the labor force also dropped to 58.7 percent in October, from 61.9 percent during the previous quarter and 61.4 percent last year.
As of October, an estimated 74.3 million Filipinos were aged 15 and higher.
Seasonal jobs covered
Meanwhile, the underemployment rate covering those in the labor force who wanted additional working hours to earn more money also eased to 14.4 percent (5.7 million) in October from 17.3 percent (7.1 million) in July, 18.9 percent (6.4 million) in April, and 14.8 percent (6.3 million) in January.
Mapa said the October employment data covered seasonal jobs, including those that were usually made available ahead of the Christmas season, although he could not say if there remained ample part-time jobs given certain quarantine restrictions still in place.
In October, the sectors that posted the biggest year-on-year fall in employment were the arts, entertainment and recreation (down 38.2 percent to 214,000); accommodation and food service (down 33.2 percent to 1.34 million); real estate activities (down 25.7 percent to 176,000); transportation and storage (down 18.9 percent to 2.82 million); and manufacturing (down 17 percent to 3.03 million).
On the other hand, the following sectors had more workers in October compared with a year ago: water supply, sewerage, waste management and remediation; fishing and aquaculture; education; information and communication; administrative and support service; and human health and social work.
Amid easing quarantine, 65.9 percent of the employed were working 40 hours or more in October, up from 56.1 percent in July and 29.1 percent in April, although lower than the 69.3 percent in October 2019.
The employed worked an average of 40.8 hours in October, up from 38.2 hours in July and 35 hours in April but down from 42 hours last year before the pandemic struck.
For those who have jobs but not at work, most of them, or 38.2 percent, attributed their current working conditions to the COVID-19 quarantine.
Reopening of economy
In a statement, Acting Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick Chua attributed the jobs recovery in October to “the reopening of the economy.” He said “it could have been lower if the economy were opened further, coupled with the provision of safe and sufficient public transport.”
Chua, who heads the state planning agency National Economic and Development Authority (Neda), nonetheless noted that a string of four typhoons plus the onset of a projected prolonged wet season due to La Niña also inflicted “significant employment loss in agriculture.”
“In the latter half of October, the country was hit by Typhoons ‘Nika,’ ‘Ofel,’ ‘Pepito,’ and ‘Quinta,’ which contributed to the reduction of agriculture employment by 1.1 million, or about 70 percent of the 1.5 million jobs lost between July and October. Workers in the provinces also faced difficulty in returning to work given interprovince transport restrictions, and contributed to the 0.5-million loss in the industry sector,” Neda said.
No reason to celebrate
“The employment loss was tempered by the services sector, which recorded a 0.3-million gain in employment relative to July, as it benefited from the increased operational capacity and further relaxation of quarantine restrictions,” it added.
Chua also said the declining underemployment rate meant “the quality of jobs is improving—this proximity to normalcy means that the informal sector is performing and the impact on poverty may be less severe than initially estimated.”
But labor groups are not impressed.
The “minimal” increase in the number of workers who have returned to work pales beside the “millions” of workers who lost their jobs in the continuing layoffs, according to Defend Jobs Philippines spokesperson Christian Magsoy.
“A mere 800,000 revived jobs … do not give us reason to celebrate,” Magsoy said.
The Sentro ng Nagkakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa, or Sentro, described the easing of the unemployment rate as “a complete illusion.”
It said the drop could be “largely explained by the fact that at least 2.2 million workers were considered as out of the labor force.”
Sentro also said the number of those employed in agriculture and manufacturing declined, while those employed in the services sector were mostly workers of family-run farms or businesses.
In the House, Albay Rep. Joey Salceda said the latest unemployment figures should “signal the urgent need” for one final round of stimulus measures, or Bayanihan 3. —With reports from Dona Z. Pazzibugan and Nestor Corrales
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