By JOHN TRIA
After the successful opening of the SEA Games, other good news reached us last week. Many economists are predicting a 6.5% growth in the last quarter of 2019, pushing our year end growth to about 6%, which puts us still among Asia`s top five fastest growing economies. This will show that our growth is sustained despite the challenges such as the US China Trade war that has slowed down global growth.
But two other important figures worth noting have been released.
The first is the much awaited official figure show a sharply reduced poverty level from 23 to 18%. This 5% drop is the sharpest in poverty rates in recent years, which means that about 5 million or so Filipinos are no longer poor. We have broken the 20% level we have been in for the last ten years or so, giving us the lowest ever poverty obtained in recorded Philippine history.
With these figures, it looks like various poverty alleviation measures have delivered, combining direct financial stimulus with training and livelihood programs for poor families.
These programs, coupled with a surge in rural infrastructure serve to stimulate the rural economy and create local growth. We may not see this in the cities, but in the hinterlands like Mindanao, the construction of many roads into once unreachable communities has served to reduce armed conflict considerably, creating spaces for growth in once impoverished conflict infested areas. The demand for transport services manifests this economic activity, giving many the opportunity to start up small enterprises.
Likewise, our unemployment rates have dropped from 5.1% to 4.5%, garnering for us the lowest unemployment rate in about 14 years. The challenge here, as I have written before, is for government, through the TESDA and Department of Labor, to help train more individuals to enter the labor force and meet the demand for workers. Many friends have told me of the difficulty in hiring skilled workers even in Mindanao. We hope this apparent skill gap closes soon. Our ability to engage the workforce will matter as industry grows.
When poverty and unemployment numbers go down, the growth becomes more inclusive. It means that more are earning income and their families are benefitting from the growth.
What needs to be done?
For one, these numbers have to be sustained. Government must keep its eyes on the ball and make sure that the policy environment favors employment generating investments in tourism and a boost in agriculture, which are low hanging fruits in the rural areas since the capacities of local entrepreneurs and workers to partake of jobs and build enterprises in these sectors lower, and investments move faster. Key here is implementing the Ease of Doing
Business Law and the Start-up Act.
Another area is continuing to push for manufacturing and technology based enterprises that may take longer to develop, but bear real long term benefits in terms of well developed, competitive products that add considerable value to the economy and high paying jobs in the medium and long term. This will require implementing the Innovation law.
With such already laws in place, things are looking up.
As we celebrate International Human Rights Day, it is worth noting that the greater capacity of the people to participate in the economy also encourages them to engage our democracy. Lifting people out of poverty supports their economic and cultural rights and makes our society more stable, enabling more effective choice. Increased participation strengthens democracy.
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