Agri jobs’ decline pushes higher unemployment in September
MANILA, Philippines—Bad weather coupled with the end of harvest season shed 862,000 jobs in the agriculture sector in September, bringing total unemployment to 4.3 million that month—the highest so far this year.
The unemployment rate also further climbed to 8.9 percent in September, the most elevated level in 2021.
Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) data showed that the number of jobless and its rate compared to the labor force population were also the highest since the 10-percent rate, which translated into 4.6 million unemployed Filipinos in July 2020.
However, National Statistician Dennis Mapa cautioned that the monthly labor force survey (LFS) reflected only headline national figures, while the quarterly LFS in 2020 had details up to the regional level and cannot be compared apples-to-apples. The PSA in 2021 started its monthly LFS while keeping the quarterly surveys for January, April, July and October to better monitor the employment situation amid gradually easing COVID quarantine measures.
But not even the less stringent restrictions in September following the Delta surge-induced lockdowns in August—including the most stringent enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) reimposed in Metro Manila—improved the jobs situation. Despite the ECQ, August’s jobs figures—3.9 million Filipinos unemployed and a jobless rate of 8.1 percent—were better than September’s.
Mapa mainly blamed the bigger joblessness in September on the lower employment in agriculture and forestry, which slid to 8.99 million from 9.85 million in August.
“Typhoon ‘Jolina’ affected some 30,000 hectares of agricultural land across the regions of Central Luzon, Calabarzon, Mimaropa, Bicol, Western Visayas, Central Visayas, and Eastern Visayas, and contributed to the employment loss in the sector,” said the state planning agency National Economic and Planning Authority (Neda) in a statement. “This decline came after the sector regained 1.9 million employment in August,” it said.
Jobs in manufacturing suffered from a 343,000 decline; in information and communication (ICT), down by 126,000; in mining and quarrying, down by 75,000; and in real estate activities, down by 69,000 compared to August levels, PSA data showed.
In all, a net of 642,000 jobs was shed between August and September, Neda said.
“These results were expected as many parts of the country remained under stringent and blanket quarantines for most of the survey period,” said Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick Chua, who also heads Neda. “In particular, the modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) was extended in the National Capital Region (NCR) up to Sept. 15,” he said.
On the flip side, other sectors benefited from eased quarantine in September: wholesale and retail trade, including repair of motor vehicles and motorcycles gained 353,000 jobs compared to the previous month; employment in public administration and defense as well as compulsory social security added 118,000; construction jobs rose by 105,000 and there were 89,000 jobs added in administrative and support service activities.
In the education sector, 115,000 jobs were added, mainly school personnel when classes started, PSA data showed. But this also resulted in a smaller labor force population — Filipinos aged 15 and above, employed or unemployed — as some returned to school, Mapa said.
PSA data showed that the labor force population declined to 47.9 million in September from 48.1 million in August, and the participation rate slightly eased to 63.3 percent last September from August’s 63.6 percent.
Asked by the Inquirer if there was a skills mismatch between available jobs and people looking for employment, Chua noted that formal or white-collar jobs increased in September, while the huge losses in agriculture more than offset these gains. He cited that agriculture jobs were seasonal and vulnerable to bad weather, hence more volatile.
Last Tuesday (Nov. 2), global recruitment firm Michael Page Philippines said in a statement that job opportunities in the Philippines rose 13 percent in the third quarter compared to employment prospects during the second quarter.
Michael Page’s data showed the biggest hikes in job opportunities were in the technology (up 37 percent quarter-on-quarter), engineering and manufacturing (up 32 percent), and finance (up 10 percent) sectors.
“Companies in the Philippines have adapted to the pandemic and are going ahead with their previously-paused business plans,” said Albert Perez, Michael Page Philippines regional director.
“These roles are for business-critical positions at the middle to top management level,” Perez said.
“In these uncertain times, strong business leadership is required to drive organizational change and grow as more have to manage transformation brought about by the pandemic,” he added.
Perez said that “both Filipino companies and large multinationals have increased their investment into the Philippines which has brought about waves of digital transformation.”
“As more companies focus on data and analytics to drive decision making, new technology profiles have been introduced into the market as well,” Perez said.
“The popularity of e-commerce has driven consumer demand and placed pressure on companies to deliver at a faster rate. This has led to roles in production and project management as well as engineering, operations and procurement,” Perez added.
While the September LFS round may have been unable to capture these new job opportunities yet, Mapa pointed to PSA data showing that those currently unemployed but awaiting calls for interviews with prospective employers rose to 7.2 percent in September from 5.6 percent in August.
For Chua, “better labor outcomes in October can be expected when the country sees the full impact of the implementation of granular lockdowns in NCR,” which the Neda chief also claimed helped lower infections from their September peak.
“Overall, the economy has generated 1.1 million employment above the pre-pandemic level,” said Chua.
“This signals the Philippines’ continuing recovery. We look forward to the expansion of the alert level and granular lockdown system to the whole country to recover more jobs and livelihoods,” Chua added.
Underemployment, which measures the number of those employed who wanted higher-paying jobs and longer working hours, declined to 6.2 million Filipinos in September or a rate of 14.2 percent from 6.5 million people or 14.7 percent of the labor force in August.
Neda said the lower unemployment rate meant that “more people found more productive work.”
In a research note, ING Philippines senior economist Nicholas Mapa said that “improved labor market conditions will be integral in our economic recovery.”
“Relaxed mobility constraints and increased vaccination rates will help provide the groundwork for a pickup in consumption,” Mapa said.
“However, until households are secure in their ability to access income and rebuild their savings, we may have to be content with only modest gains in consumption and in turn, overall economic growth,” he said.
“Where consumption goes, the Philippine economy will likely follow,” Mapa said.
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