The economic managers are overstating employment gains to cover up the harsh impact of their refusal to give more cash aid and meaningfully stimulate the economy, said research group IBON. Latest labor force figures show that Filipinos are not regaining their jobs and incomes and, on the contrary, are desperately trying to make a living in whatever way they can.
“The seeming improvement in the jobs situation from the reported higher employment and lower unemployment is an illusion, said Sonny Africa, IBON Executive Director. “Many Filipinos have still not regained their full-time work and small businesses. They’re just trying to get by on informal and irregular work with likely low and uncertain incomes.”
Comparing March 2021 labor force data to January 2020 data before the pandemic and the start of endless lockdowns, IBON noted that while the number of employed increased by 2.8 million, the labor force also grew by 3.8 million. This means there was not enough work for those entering or returning to the work force, resulting in a one million increase in unemployment, said the group.
IBON also observed that these additional jobs are made up of mostly irregular and informal work. Africa said that the clearest sign of this is the decline in full-time work (40 hours and over) by 550,000 to 28.2 million in March 2021 from 28.8 million in January 2020. The increase in the number of jobs was overwhelmingly of part-time work (less than 40 hours) which grew by a huge 3.2 million and of those ‘with a job, not at work’ which grew by 128,000.
Over half of part-time workers surveyed said they are working less than 40 hours due to variable working time or nature of work. This could be due to reduced work hours brought about by pandemic conditions and lockdowns.
The significant rise in self-employment is another indication that there is a lack of decent work. Africa said that the supposed employment gains are largely in ‘self-employed without any paid employee’ which grew by 1.7 million (to 12.8 million) and of ‘unpaid family workers’ which rose by a huge one million (to 3.6 million) in March 2021.
Meanwhile, the 28.1 million wage and salary workers in March 2021 is only 333,000 more than the 27.8 million in January 2020.
These are aside from some 206,000 employed in small family businesses which have shut down between January 2020 and March 2021, as indicated by the fall in ’employers in own family-operated farms or business’. Africa said that this may be due to how micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) are getting scant support from the government, especially informal and unregistered MSMEs.
Africa also said that household incomes have fallen so low after over a year of lockdowns that more youth and otherwise retired elderly are seeking work to supplement household incomes. The labor force participation rate of age groups 15-24 years old and 65 years old and above increased by 2.3 percentage points and 2.7 percentage points from February 2021 to March 2021, respectively. According to the Philippine Statistics Authority, these two age groups largely contributed to the increase in the labor force during this period.
Recovery is stifled by the economic managers refusing to give more ayuda, improve the welfare and increase the purchasing power of households, and stimulate small businesses and the national economy, said Africa. The real value of the minimum wage measured at 2012 constant prices also continues to fall – from Php468.06 in June 2016 at the start of Pres. Duterte’s term to just Php434.47 in April 2021 – and is as low as almost a decade ago (Php434.38 in December 2011). Three out of four Filipino households do not even have any savings to fall back on, he said.
Africa said that the persisting economic crisis will become even clearer when the first quarter gross domestic product (GDP) figures come out next week. He said, “We will likely see tepid economic growth at most despite the so-called improved employment situation. This will just underscore how poor the quality of jobs remains and how shallow the economic rebound is.”
IBON said that the government can arrest the problem by giving much more emergency cash assistance. This will not just improve household welfare but also boost aggregate demand and spur more rapid economic recovery. The multiplier effects from this will be much greater and more immediate than the same amount going to grandiose import-intensive infrastructure projects, debt servicing, and human rights-violating counterinsurgency, said the group.