Widespread informality, growing poverty belie gov’t claims of robust jobs market – IBON

February 7, 2024

by IBON Foundation

Economic managers’ hyped higher employment and lower unemployment figures are disconnected from the hardship that even more Filipinos are in, said research group IBON. Looking at annual labor force data the group said that the prevalent lack of decent work and the increasing number of Filipinos falling into poverty dispels the Marcos Jr administration’s hype of a “robust” labor market.

From 2022 to 2023, employment increased by 1.3 million from 46.9 million to 48.2 million while unemployment decreased by 480,000 from 2.7 million to 2.2 million. Underemployment also fell by 730,000 from 6.8 million to 5.9 million. IBON said however that these seemingly rosy figures don’t reflect how an increasing number of Filipinos are barely getting by on whatever work they can find and falling into worsening poverty.

The group noted for instance that by class of worker, there were increases in jobs that are considered informal: the number of self-employed grew by 157,000 from 13 million in 2022 to 13.1 million in 2023 while the number of unpaid family workers grew by 154,000 from 3.7 million to 3.8 million. IBON estimates that the number of those in informal work increased by 483,000 from 19.9 million to 20.4 million or 42.2% of total employed in 2023. This includes domestic workers, the self-employed and those that are employers, work with pay, and unpaid family workers in own family-operated farms or businesses. If irregular workers in private establishments are included, this could possibly increase informality to as much as 34.7 million or 72% of total employment.

IBON also observed that there was job creation in sectors notorious for temporary, irregular and low-paying work. The number of employed in agriculture, foresting and fishing grew by 357,000 from 10.8 million to 11.2 million and in construction by 163,000 from 4.4 million to 4.5 million.

Many Filipinos are clearly not benefiting from claimed higher employment and lower unemployment as the lack of decent work and livelihoods are pushing more of them into poverty. According to the Social Weather Stations (SWS), the number of self-rated poor and borderline families grew by 1.27 million to 22 million, or 8 out of 10 families, in the fourth quarter of 2023 from the same period in 2022. The number of hungry families grew by almost 500,000 to 3.5 million, also according to SWS. And based on Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas data, the number of households without savings rose by 594,000 from 18.6 million to 19.2 million also in the same period.

IBON said that by clinging to its illusion of a robust labor market, the Marcos Jr administration ignores the worsening situation of millions of Filipinos. The group said that the government should acknowledge the reality of the jobs crisis and implement measures that will actually create decent and sustainable employment instead of just benefiting the rich and powerful few.