The number of jobless Filipinos climbed to 4.2 million in February despite easing quarantine restrictions during that period, which the Duterte administration’s economic team anticipated generated additional jobs.
Based on the Labor Force Survey (LFS) by the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) released on Tuesday, March 30, the unemployment rate slightly inched up to 8.8 percent in the second month of the year from 8.7 percent in January.
The number of unemployed Filipinos 15 years old and above was about 234,000 more than the reported four million individuals in the previous month.
The February jobs number is the third highest since April last year’s 17.6 percent unemployment rate, or during the country’s strictest lockdowns aimed at containing the spread of COVID-19.
Following the release of the LFS data, the government’s economic team which has been advocating for the loosening of quarantine restrictions, said the COVID-19 pandemic and the quarantines have claimed many lives and caused great suffering to people.
In a joint statement, Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III, Budget Secretary Wendel E. Avisado and Acting Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick T. Chua said that Filipinos have endured joblessness, loss of income, and hunger for over a year now.
Filipinos also suffered lack of treatment for their non-COVID illnesses, the economic managers said.
Employment rate in the country also marginally declined from 91.3 percent in January to 91.2 percent in February, equivalently to 43.2 million Filipinos who had job or business out of the 47.3 million who were in the labor force.
Among the employed persons, there were 7.9 million categorized as underemployed or those who expressed their desires to have additional hours of work in their present job or to have additional job, or to have a new job with longer hours of work.
The underemployment rate in February is higher than the reported 6.6 million in the previous month.
“Nevertheless, we have seen improvements in the number of people who were able to recover their jobs or earn a living as we gradually reopened more of the economy late last year and in early 2021,” the economic managers said.
The labor force participation rate, or the proportion of the working age population that is either working or actively looking for work, increased from 60.5 percent in January to 63.5 percent in February.
As a result, some 1.9 million jobs were restored, translating to an overall employment level of 43.2 million in February.
“This means we have surpassed our pre-pandemic employment level of 42.6 million in January 2020,” the economic team said.
According to the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA), around 8.7 million jobs were lost when the government imposed the strictest quarantine from March to May last year.
But as the country carefully relaxed its restrictions, NEDA said that more jobs were gradually restored and the total number of jobs created since April last year reached 9.3 million.
“Over the past year, employment figures showed the sensitivity of the labor market to the level of community quarantines that were imposed to contain the spread of COVID-19,” the economic managers said.
However, with the sharp increase in the number of COVID-19 cases this month, the government has imposed the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) in Metro Manila and the adjacent provinces, collectively called the “NCR Plus” bubble, from March 24 to April 4.
The economic teams said the decision was arrived at after a careful analysis of the cost and benefit of the week-long ECQ on the people. “We assure the Filipino people that the Duterte administration will not squander this opportunity to slow down the spread of the virus and recalibrate our COVID-19 response strategies,” the Cabinet officials said.
“We will continue to monitor closely and assess the health and economic data as they come in order for us to deliver timely interventions and provide better opportunities for the people, especially the poor, amid this prolonged health crisis,” they added.