Hunger rise, extensive poverty debunks jobs improvement hype — IBON

May 8, 2024

by IBON Foundation

Research group IBON said that the Marcos Jr administration must be living in an alternate universe as its constant hype of “labor market recovery” and “improvement” is not being felt by many Filipinos struggling with poor quality jobs and, as a result, falling into worsening hunger and widespread poverty.

The reported number of employed persons increased by 572,000 to 49.2 million in March 2024 from 48.6 million in March 2023. There were declines in the number of unemployed by 416,000 to 2 million from 2.4 million, and the underemployed by 51,000 to 5.39 million from 5.44 million.

However, IBON pointed out that these “encouraging” figures are alarmingly not being felt as real improvements on the lives of millions of Filipinos.

The poor jobs situation of precarious work and low incomes is resulting in worsening hunger and widespread poverty. According to the Social Weather Stations (SWS), Filipino families that experienced involuntary hunger at least once in the past three months increased to 14.2% in March 2024 from 12.6% in December 2023. SWS also reported that 46% of Filipino families rated themselves as poor and 33% as borderline poor in March 2024.

The group said that the reported decrease in unemployed and underemployed persons could merely be reflecting how more Filipinos are simply becoming discouraged and dropping out of the labor force or not looking for work amid poor job prospects.

The group also noted that while reported increases in wage workers in private establishments and in full-time work should be positive, this is dampened by the low pay they are likely receiving that is not enough for their families’ needs. Wage and salary workers grew by 1.6 million to 31.6 million from 29.9 million, largely because of the 1.5 million-increase in private establishment wage workers. Meanwhile, looking at hours worked, full-time workers rose by a significant 2.5 million to 33.8 million from 31.3 million.

However, across all regions, the average minimum wage is only Php441 or around one-third (36.5%) of the Php1,208 average family living wage (FLW) for a family of five, as of April 2024. In the NCR, the Php610 nominal minimum wage – the highest nationwide – is just 51.2% of the Php1,192 FLW. Meanwhile, BARMM has the lowest minimum wage nationwide at Php361 which is only 17% of the region’s Php2,069 FLW.

Further indicating the lack of decent work is widespread informality in employment. As of March 2024, there are nearly 20 million openly informal workers which is 40.5% of the total employed, IBON estimates. This includes domestic workers (2.1 million), the self-employed (13.3 million) and those working in own-family operated farms and businesses (4.5 million of which 3.3 million are unpaid family workers). This could be millions higher if irregular workers in private establishments are also counted. 

IBON also said that the huge job losses in agriculture show how volatile employment in the sector is due to its backwardness and vulnerability to weather conditions like El Niño. For the past three consecutive months of 2024, the number of employed persons in the sector has significantly dropped year-on-year by 697,000 in January, by 1.32 million in February, and now by 1.33 million to 10.1 million in March 2024 from 11.4 million in March 2023. The majority or one million of the 1.7-million decrease in part-time workers was in the agriculture sector.

At the same time, IBON said that the 963,000-increase in wholesale and retail trade employment to 10.7 million from 9.8 million could reflect the lack of sufficient work and income in production sectors which forces desperate Filipinos to seek work in trade and sales. Even if jobs in services also tend to be temporary, irregular and low paying.

IBON said it’s bewildering that the Marcos Jr administration still pushes its hype of “encouraging trends” and “improvement” of the labor market despite rising hunger and extensive poverty. The group said that by choosing to ignore the harsh reality of millions of poor and vulnerable Filipinos, the government shows that it is avoiding and not really interested in implementing meaningful measures that could actually improve the people’s welfare.