Unemployment rises in April amid NCR Plus lockdown
MANILA, Philippines—Stricter lockdowns in areas accounting for half of the economy last April raised the unemployment rate to 8.7 percent, or an estimated 4.14 million Filipinos with jobs, with one-fifth of them in Metro Manila.
The entry of fresh graduates into the labor force at the same time compounded the problem, according to Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick Chua.
The jobless rate “also reflects the usual school calendar where there are some graduates that add to the labor force population,” Chua, who heads the state planning agency National Economic and Development Authority (Neda), told the Inquirer.
National Statistician Dennis Mapa told a press briefing that the Philippine Statistics Authority’s (PSA) labor force survey (LFS) in April showed a similar unemployment rate of 8.7 percent as of January 2021 or a quarter ago, when the survey covered national as well as regional respondents.
However, the April rate was higher than March’s 7.1 percent even as the March survey had been limited to national level data and did not delve into regional respondents.
In terms of the actual number of jobless Filipinos, the April figure was higher than March’s 3.44 million and January’s 3.95 million.
But compared to 2020, the unemployment rate in April 2021 eased from the record-high 17.6 percent—equivalent to 7.23 million Filipinos without a job—posted in April 2020 when 75 percent of the economy froze at the height of the most stringent COVID-19 lockdown in the region from mid-March to May last year.
Mapa said the labor force population—Filipinos aged 15 and above, with or without a job—further rose to 47.4 million in April from 45.2 million in January and 41.1 million in April 2020. He said many did not participate in the labor force in April 2020 due to the strictest lockdown back then as the government prevented movement of people and non-essential goods to contain the virus’ spread.
This meant there were 6.4 million more Filipinos in the labor force in April compared to 2020, and 2.2 million more compared to a quarter ago, Mapa said.
Mapa later told the Inquirer that while increases in labor force participation were recorded across all age groups in April, there number grew among those aged 15 to 24, 55 to 64, as well as 65 and older.
The PSA chief said “more people were looking for work” despite the stricter quarantines reimposed in National Capital Region (NCR) Plus—Metro Manila as well as the provinces of Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna and Rizal—last April.
Among the country’s regions, NCR suffered the highest unemployment rate in April of 14.4 percent, equivalent to about 875,000 jobless in Metro Manila.
In April last 2020 when the country was under enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) for a longer period, the unemployment rate in Metro Manila was a lower 12.3 percent, equivalent to about 665,000 without work, Mapa said.
The labor force population in NCR steadily rose from 5.4 million in April 2020 to 5.8 million in January and 6.1 million in April this year, he noted.
In contrast, the regions of Central Luzon and Calabarzon, which covered the four provinces that had been part of NCR Plus, had lower jobless rates in April compared to 2020 even as they were worse than January’s.
Central Luzon, where Bulacan belonged, posted an unemployment rate of 8.8 percent last April—up from 8.5 percent in January but down from 27.3 percent in April 2020.
Calabarzon—which included Cavite, Laguna and Rizal—posted a jobless rate of 13.4 percent in April, up from 13.1 percent last January but down from 16.7 percent in April 2020.
In a joint statement, President Rodrigo Duterte’s economic managers said the April unemployment rate reflected “a temporary reversal of our first-quarter employment gains, which show the tight link between labor market outcomes and the level of quarantine restrictions.”
“However, compared to last year’s ECQ, the overall labor market outcomes are substantially better as we took a more risk-based approach in imposing restrictions,” said the statement by Chua, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III and Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado.
“The unemployment rate outside NCR continued its general downward trend, declining from 8.7 percent in January to 7.9 percent in April. This reflects the gains from the safe reopening of the economy in the provinces,” it added.
The economic team said 2.1 million jobs mainly in the construction, agriculture and as well as wholesale and retail trade sectors were shed between March and April after NCR Plus reverted to stricter lockdowns. On the flip side, they said there had been a net of about 700,000 jobs generated as quarantine restrictions gradually eased between April this year and April 2020. As many as 8.7 million jobs were lost due to last year’s ECQ.
“Improving the rate of job creation will be crucial in our recovery effort this year,” the economic team said.
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