Research group IBON said that big employment losses in January 2023, particularly in full-time work, refutes the Marcos Jr administration’s hype of a robust labor market and recovery. The group said that the jobs crisis is worsening despite the economy reopening. Sugarcoating only hides the problem and prevents urgent action to help millions of Filipinos struggling to make ends meet.
The latest labor force survey data shows that the number of employed persons dropped by a huge 1.7 million to 47.4 million in January 2023 from 49 million in December 2022. The number of labor force participants also fell by 1.5 million to 49.7 million from 51.2 million. The number of unemployed and underemployed grew slightly by 153,000 and 458,000, to 2.4 million and 6.7 million respectively.
IBON said that the declines in the number of employed and labor force participants likely indicate growing numbers of discouraged workers – those who have dropped out of the labor force due to poor job prospects and who are jobless but no longer officially counted as unemployed.
The latest figures underscore the problem of too much work in the economy being informal and irregular. By industry, the employment losses were mostly in sectors where work tends to be seasonal or temporary and insecure, said the group. The biggest decreases were in agriculture, which significantly fell by 1.2 million to 10.5 million in January 2023 from the previous month; wholesale and retail trade fell by 375,000 to 10.6 million; and construction fell by 288,000 to four (4) million.
IBON also stressed that informality is gravely worsening. By hours worked, the number of those working 40 hours and over fell by a huge 1.8 million from 31.8 million in December 2022 to just 30 million in January 2023. This decrease in full-time workers means that regular and secure work is becoming even scarcer, said the group. The number of part-time workers also fell slightly by 167,000 to 16.5 million.
Another indication of worsening informality and loss of regular jobs is the decline in wage and salary workers mostly in private establishments. By class of worker, the number of wage and salary workers declined by 714,000 from 30.2 million to 29.5 million. This is mainly due to the drop in the number of those working in private establishments which fell by 576,000 from 23.6 million to 23 million.
There were also decreases in the number of self-employed (by 746,000 to 12.8 million) and unpaid family workers (by 433,000 to 3.9 million). However, this mainly reflects the volatility of self-employment and informal work falling to joblessness; it is unlikely that they moved on to better work prospects considering the huge drop in full-time work.
The group said that the over-long lockdowns has only made informal work even more prevalent two years after the pandemic onset. IBON estimates that nearly 20 million or 42.2% of jobs are outright informal work as of January 2023. This is significantly higher than the 16.8 million in pre-pandemic January 2020. Informal work is made up of the self-employed, those employed in small family farms or businesses, domestic help, and unpaid family workers.
This does not yet include irregular workers in private establishments who should be considered informally employed. Including them possibly increases informality to as much as 34.5 million or an overwhelming 73% of total employment.
IBON said that the Marcos Jr administration should be less obsessed with constantly projecting a rosy picture of economic recovery and be more concerned with the harsh reality of poor-quality work, low incomes and high prices that millions of ordinary Filipinos are faced with. The group said that the government should unleash its considerable funds and resources to ensure immediate relief measures such as ayuda, wage subsidies and support to small businesses and producers. These can really help distressed Filipinos cope and bring about genuine and sustained recovery.