The unemployment rate took a turn for the worse in April, averaging 17.7 percent or more than three times last year’s figure of only 5.1 percent and only 5.3 percent in January this year.
The ranks of the unemployed, or people unable to find jobs, now number 7.3 million based on latest numbers released Friday by the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), a result of forced cessation of economic activities compelled by enhanced community quarantine protocols.
The employment rate declined as well to only 82.3 percent in April from 94.9 percent a year ago and 94.7 percent in January this year.
But acting Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick Chua brushed aside the apprehension, saying the strictures under ECQ proved prudent.
“Let us remember that we made the difficult decision to implement the ECQ because we resolved to save lives and prioritize the health of our fellow Filipinos, including our family and friends,” Chua said at a virtual news conference on Friday.
“This decision is proving to be a prudent one. In the May 2020 survey of the SWS (Social Weather Station), 84 percent of Filipinos say staying at home to fight COVID-19 (coronavirus disease) is worth it.”
Chua said the government implemented measures to mitigate the socioeconomic impact of the pandemic, including flexible work arrangements, emergency employment programs and various forms of direct transfers more known as subsidies.
Reduced employment temporary
Socioeconomic Planning Undersecretary Rosemarie Edillon said the declining numbers are temporary and that government is crafting measures to mitigate the impact.
“This is a setback but we are coming up with concrete measures on how to, at the very least, get back the five million (jobs lost),” Edillon said.
“We are very hopeful of the third-, fourth-quarter. Local government units (LGU) are not too keen yet on opening up and we fully understand as their priority is health, saving lives.”
Poverty rate still achievable
Chua asserted the target poverty rate set by the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) is possible.
“Given the pandemic, (the poverty number) of course expectedly goes up. But there are many indications this is only temporary and we have a strong chance to still hit the target the NEDA has set forth,” he said.
Given the policies are in place, including socioeconomic measures to mitigate the pandemic’s impact, Chua said the economic planners remain hopeful the target poverty number is still within reach.
The government aims to reduce the country’s poor to 17 percent or 6 million out of poverty by 2022. This was actually accomplished in 2018 when the poverty rate averaged slightly lower than 17 percent.
The NEDA aims to lower the poverty rate from 17 percent to only 11 percent.
“In terms of magnitude, the number of unemployed persons increased by five million from 2.3 million in April 2019 to 7.3 million in April 2020,” National Statistician Claire Dennis Mapa said, adding that all regions reported double-digit unemployment rates.
Mapa said the unemployment rate was highest at 29.8 percent at the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARRM), while Region III or Central Luzon, and the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) reported rates averaging 27.3 percent and 25.3 percent, respectively.
On the falling employment rate in April, Mapa said this translates to a decline in employed people by eight million from 41.8 million in April 2019 and 33.8 million in April 2020.
She said the largest drops in employment were observed in the arts, entertainment and recreation; electricity, gas, steam, and air conditioning supply; information and communication; accommodation and food services activities as well as construction.
The rate of employed persons with jobs but not at work was reported at 38.4 percent or 13 million of total.
Mapa said in April 2020, a majority or 97 percent of workers currently employed but not at work said their not being at work was due to COVID-19 and community quarantines.
The underemployment rate, or the proportion of employed persons wanting additional work, increased to 18.9 percent from 13.4 percent in the same period last year, which corresponds to about 6.4 million underemployed workers in April 2020, from 5.6 million in April 209 or an increase of about 781,000 underemployed workers.
“Labor force participation rate among Filipinos 15 years and older is estimated at 55.6 percent in April 2020, the lowest in the history of Philippine labor market,” Mapa said.
This translates to 41 million people who were part of the labor force in April, a decrease of about three million from 44 million year-on-year.
Malacañang on Friday expressed sadness but was not surprised by the figures released by the PSA.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said this was an obvious effect of the economic shutdown over the Luzon area during enhanced community quarantine conditions when most businesses were closed and people were out of work and stayed home.
To cushion the impact of the coronavirus disease, various forms of subsidies during the period were pursued to assist affected workers.
These include the Social Amelioration Program by the Department of Social Welfare and Development, COVID-19 Adjustment Measures Program, the Abot-Kamay ang Pagtulong for displaced OFW, Tulong Panghanapbuhay para sa Ating Disadvantaged/Displaced Workers by the Department of Labor and Employment; Financial Subsidy for Rice Farmers by the Department of Agriculture; and the Small Business Wage Subsidy Program by the Department of Finance.
In addition, NEDA came up with a comprehensive set of priority policies and strategies for the productive sectors to enable the economy to recover and transition to the new normal.
“A resiliency program, such as but not limited to active labor market programs, job matching and skills upgrading, is likewise being prepared to help insulate our people from future similar crises,” Roque said in a statement.
“Our nation is composed of resilient and hardworking people and we will stand united to weather this health crisis, and together, we will heal and recover as one,” he added.
with Elmer N. Manuel
and Francis T. Wakefield