7 Jan 2022 – Jobless rate hits lowest since start of pandemic, but job quality worsens

Published by rudy Date posted on January 7, 2022

Ramon Royandoyan – Philstar.com
January 7, 2022 | 11:41am

Jobless rate hits lowest since start of pandemic, but job quality worsens
Devotees at National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help at Baclaran in
The STAR / Michael Varcas

ANILA, Philippines — Unemployment rate in November last year hit its lowest level since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, but Filipinos are finding low quality jobs that are not paying them enough to make ends meet amid hard times.

There were 3.16 million people in the country who were either jobless or out of business in November, translating to an unemployment rate of 6.5%, the Philippine Statistics Authority reported Friday. The latest reading was lower compared with 7.4% jobless rate recorded in the preceding month.

At a press conference, National Statistician Claire Dennis Mapa said this was the lowest unemployment rate since the onset of the pandemic in 2020. Before the health crisis struck, the PSA released the results of its Labor Force Survey on a quarterly basis, but state statisticians later started publishing the jobs report on a monthly basis in 2021. Data showed unemployment rate hit 17.6% in April 2020, – the highest since April 2005 when a change in definition of unemployment was implemented.

But underemployment rate, or the proportion of those looking for more work to augment income, rose 16.7% in November from 16.1% in the previous month. By then, the national government had relaxed pandemic curbs and reopened the economy, but Filipinos still sought more working hours as data showed.

“Because companies are still not maintaining stable operations, there are sectors that would have high underemployment rates,” Mapa said.

According to Mapa, several jobs in November were of seasonal nature, owing to the economic reopening and the nearing holiday season then. Mapa said jobs in wholesale and retail trade, accommodation, hotels, and restaurants fell in that category.

“We see that from the data. Of course, under normal conditions, there would be an increase as Christmas was just around the corner so businesses boosted their workforce. We expect the December round to be the same,” Mapa said in an online briefing.

The number of employed persons expanded in November last year to 93.5%, wherein jobs from various sectors such as fishing and aquaculture, which added 355,000, boosted the figures.

However, data broken down showed grim strokes. PSA data showed employment in human health and social work fell, posting highest jobs losses in November. Mapa reckoned jobs in the dental industry shed at least 40,000 in the same month, slashing 39,000 jobs in private medical and dental practice in the process.

For labor economist Leonardo Lanzona, the Philippine job market is experiencing a “working poor” phenomenon.

“This is the case where employment is seemingly high, but as indicated by the higher underemployment rates, workers do earn enough to meet the needs of the family,” he said in a text message.

“This is often the case when the worker is engaged in services or elementary work often in informal arrangements that do not provide decent work conditions, including sufficient work hours,” Lanzon added.

Nicholas Antonio Mapa, senior economist at ING Bank in Manila, noted this was “decent headway” but has yet to meet the pre-pandemic jobless average of 5.5%. The recent surge in infections, which began after the holiday season, could however impact jobs data in the next months.

“We could see another reversal of this recent positive trend as restrictions is reinstated. Firms hard hit by infections may need to shut down operations, which may also lead to higher unemployment or fewer work hours available,” Mapa said in a Viber message.

“Authorities however have worked to keep the economy opening despite raising alert levels but a widespread lockdown will likely push unemployment back past 7%,” he added.

For Jun Neri, lead economist for Bank of the Philippine Islands, the quality of jobs in the market may improve, especially if the 2022 presidential elections mete out “favorable” results.

“Quality of jobs is expected to improve further this year once the Omicron hiccup ends. Getting to 70% vaccination rate before 2Q2022 is expected to work wonders for the economy. If we get favorable results in the presidential elections, we might even see a return to pre-Covid unemployment & underemployment rates by early 2023,” Neri said over Viber.

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