Jobless Filipinos decline as economy reopens

Published September 3, 2020, 9:11 AM

by Chino Leyco & Leslie Ann Aquino

Lack of public transportation slows down recovery – NEDA

The number of unemployed Filipinos declined in July with the gradual reopening of the local economy after months of long and harsh lockdowns in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) showed. 


Latest figures from the PSA’s labor force survey put the country’s unemployment rate at 10 percent in July, an improvement from a record high of 17.7 percent seen in the midst of the longest and most stringent lockdowns. 

This means there were 4.6 million unemployed Filipinos in July, a 37 percent reduction compared with 7.3 million in April, but nearly double than the 2.4 million in the same month last year. 

As local economy grapples with recession, the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) remained optimistic that jobless rate can sustain the recovery as quarantine measures to prevent further COVID-19 contamination ease. 

Acting Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick T. Chua said the average unemployment rate this year could be around 11 percent, but it is expected to drop between 6.0 percent and 8.0 percent next year. 

By 2022, the government expects unemployment rate will return to its pre-coronavirus levels of around 4.0 percent to 5.0 percent. 

The country is the worst hit by the coronavirus pandemic in the region. 

The economy, as measured by gross domestic product (GDP), contracted by a record 16.5 percent in the second-quarter as lockdowns halted 75 percent of economic activities and shed millions of jobs. 

The downturn is hitting local jobs as employment rate of 90 percent in April remained lower than the 94.6 percent last year, but higher than the record low of 82.3 percent in April. 

Underemployment rate also improved to 17.3 percent in July from 13.6 percent last year, but a sign of improvement compared with 18.9 percent in April. While most parts of the country eased the restrictions, double-digit unemployment rates were still seen in Metro Manila at 15.8 percent, along with Calabarzon,12.4 percent; Central Visayas, 11.7 percent; Ilocos region, 11.1 percent; and Central Luzon, 10.9 percent. 

Young Filipinos are also bearing the brunt of the crisis, with the youth unemployment rate at 22.4 percent from 14.7 percent a year ago and 31.6 percent in the last labor force survey. 

The COVID-19-induced economic crisis, meanwhile, took a heavier toll on men than women. Unemployment rate among male workers increased by 89 percent year-on-year, while jobless female increased at a slightly slower pace of 84.9 percent. 

Based on the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) data, around two million Filipino jobs are now in limbo after their employers have temporarily stopped operations, while 180,207 workers are permanently jobless due to closures of 9,548 establishments. 

DOLE is also estimating that about 700,000 overseas Filipinos workers would return home this year due to the unfavorable global economic environment amid a health crisis. 

Chua said that the local job market is beginning to improve amid the gradual reopening of the economy, noting that the contractions in manufacturing production, exports, and imports now have began to make their “U-turns.” 

“The decrease in the unemployment rate means that some 2.7 million jobs returned as the quarantine level eased. In addition, some 4.9 million workers rejoined the labor force. All in all, some 7.5 million jobs were restored,” Chua said. 

The five sectors directly benefited from the relaxation of quarantine measures and saw the most number of returning jobs, these are in trade, agriculture, construction, manufacturing, and transport, the acting NEDA chief said. 

“In the coming months, better GDP and job numbers will hinge on how open the economy is. This entails a better strategy to ‘Prevent, Detect, Isolate, Treat, and Recover (PDITR)’,” Chua said. 

He also said the need for more “safe and sufficient” number of public transportation services, noting that limited transport has restricted the economic recovery, particularly in Metro Manila. 

While the National Capital Region is under the general community quarantine that allows to open up to 58.2 percent, Chua noted that economic activity in the capital can only operate 35.5 percent due to insufficient public transport. 

“Without the public transport system back sufficiently, many people cannot go back to work… To bounce back from this crisis, we will need to open the economy even more,” Chua said.

In a statement, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said further improvements could be expected in the coming months with the “easing of quarantine restrictions, the government’s implementation of the ‘Prevent, Detect, Isolate, Treat, and Recover’ (PDITR) strategy,  and making safe and sufficient public transport available.”

These measures would ensure that more business can reopen and more workers can return to work and resume earning income activities for supporting their families.

He believes the easing of quarantine restrictions enabled the restoration of 7.5 million jobs and the return to productive work of 4.9 million workers.

“This significant progress in the labor market situation is the result of the government’s commitment in containing the COVID pandemic and its impact through the strict imposition of the minimum health standards, provision of safety-net and income support programs to our workers, and the gradual opening the economy,” he said.
He said the DOLE is committed to “preserve, protect, and facilitate jobs” as these support the development and implementation of the government’s recovery plan to facilitate the restarting of social and economic activities in a way that is safe, amid the pandemic.

Bello said employment facilitation services on different platforms – online, digital, and face-to-face – with the assistance of the Public Employment Service Offices (PESOs), various national government agencies, and the private sector will also be provided. 

“We will continue to provide and sustain our social protection programs for the affected workers in anticipation of the enactment into law of the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act (BAYANIHAN2),” he said.
“We are hopeful that the economy recovers into a better normal and would have the capacity to absorb displaced, re-entrants, and new entrants to the labor market,” added Bello.

He then called on every Filipino worker and citizen to observe discipline in observing minimum health protocols such as the wearing of face mask and face shields, washing of hands, and physical distancing at all times, saying “the health of our economy lies on a healthy workforce.”