Research group IBON said that instead of hyping lower unemployment figures, the Marcos Jr administration should be more concerned about the decline in employed persons in wholesale and retail trade in December 2023 when the holiday season usually means more active selling and spending. The group said amid lower household food consumption and higher prices, this shows more Filipinos are struggling with the lack of decent work and incomes and are unable to spend enough even for their basic needs, hence resulting in weaker demand.
From November 2023 to December 2023, the number of employed persons in wholesale and retail trade fell by 655,000 from 10.9 million to 10.3 million. The Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) said that this was mainly attributed to job losses in the food sector. IBON said that this may be a result of weaker demand which is concerning since the month of December is usually marked by more spending due to the holidays. This could mean that more Filipinos are having a hard time because of weaker purchasing power from low income and high prices. They are thus forced to curb their expenses, particularly on food.
The group said that the job losses in the food sector under wholesale and retail trade jives with slowing food consumption. In the fourth quarter of 2023, growth of household final consumption expenditure slowed to 5.3% from 7.0% in the same period last year. One factor was the sluggish growth in food and non-alcoholic beverages consumption (to 0.5% from 4.0%). Also contributing to lower household spending, slower growth in furnishings, household equipment and routine household maintenance consumption (to 0.5% from 9.4%); and contraction of -1.4% in clothing and footwear consumption from 10.2 percent.
IBON said that the employment drop in wholesale and retail trade is among many indicators that the government should pay closer attention to and not take labor force figures at face value. The fact that sales are lagging and less people are being hired during a usually busy holiday season should ring alarm bells that even more Filipinos are barely scraping by and have to sacrifice even putting food on the table, said the group.