Pandemic casualties: 4.2M lose jobs, 7.9M suffer pay cuts
MANILA, Philippines—As the COVID-19 pandemic and community quarantine measures taken to fight it dragged on, more Filipinos went job-hunting in February but 4.2 million were unemployed and 7.9 million took pay cuts from shorter working hours, the government said on Tuesday (March 30).
Citing results of the Philippine Statistics Authority’s (PSA) labor force survey conducted in February, National Statistician Dennis Mapa told a press briefing that the labor force — the total number of employed and jobless Filipinos aged 15 and above who were active in the labor market — rose to 47.3 million last month from 45.2 million in January.
Mapa said the increase in labor force participation rate to 63.5 percent last February from January’s 60.5 percent came on the heels of the gradual reopening of the economy at that time.
But acting Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick Chua noted in a text message that “since we still have quarantines, not all jobs are full-time.”
With the Philippines under quarantine for over a year now, the lack in quality and quantity of jobs was reflected in the February employment numbers.
Mapa said the unemployment rate in February inched up to 8.8 percent from 8.7 percent in January, which translated into a higher 4.2 million jobless Filipinos last month from 4 million at the start of 2021.
The employment rate slightly eased to 91.2 percent from 91.3 percent a month ago, but the bigger number of Filipinos in the labor market meant a larger 43.2 million had jobs compared with 41.2 million in January.
In a joint statement, President Rodrigo Duterte’s economic managers said the number of Filipinos with jobs in February already exceeded the 42.6 million employed in January 2020, or before the COVID-19 pandemic bludgeoned the Philippine economy and brought its worst post-war recession in 2020. They said 1.9 million jobs were restored between January and February 2021.
Besides Chua, who heads the state planning agency National Economic and Development Authority (Neda), Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III and Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado formed part of the economic team.
The team said some sectors of the economy had been opened further and the most improvement in job creation was seen in services that included wholesale and retail trade (1.6 million jobs), agriculture (259,000) and industry (46,000).
“This trend signals rising economic activity,” the economic team said.
It said at least 8.7 million jobs were lost during enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), the stringent lockdown form, from March to May 2020. “As we carefully relaxed our restrictions, more jobs were gradually restored,” the team said.
It added that total number of jobs created since April 2020 was 9.3 million which “led to employment exceeding pre-COVID-19 levels.”
But despite the higher number of employed Filipinos, a closer look showed that those who wanted higher-paying employment or more working hours — the underemployed — jumped to 7.9 million or 18 percent of the labor force last February from 6.6 million or an underemployment rate of 16 percent last January.
Mapa said the underemployed survey respondents acknowledged they had to settle for variable working time amid “poor business conditions.”
The climb in underemployment “indicated that income is limited due to quarantine restrictions,” the economic managers said.
“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,” said the economic team.
It acknowledged the need to provide dole outs to those whose jobs were swept by the one-week ECQ reimposed in Metro Manila and four nearby provinces.
Including Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna and Rizal, the so-called “National Capital Region (NCR) Plus” accounted for half of the economy.
“This decision was arrived at after a careful analysis of the cost and benefit of the week-long ECQ on the people,” said the economic team.
“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,” it 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,” it added.
Mapa said the PSA’s February labor force survey also asked respondents if they had been laid off during the pandemic which was answered in the affirmative by a total of 9.1 million who said they had lost their jobs between March 2020 and February 2021.
Of these respondents, 6.9 million, or three-fourths of the total, were already currently employed even as they had been temporarily or permanently laid off from another job.
The other remaining 1.2 million and 1 million were currently unemployed and not in the labor force.
The February labor force survey was the first-ever monthly survey as the government wanted to better monitor employment data amid the prolonged pandemic and recession.
Previously, the PSA conducted the survey only quarterly—during the months of January, April, July and October.
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