4.6M Filipinos jobless in July as unemployment worsens in Metro Manila – PSA

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 3) — Some 4.6 million Filipinos were out of work in July, ​slipping from an all-time high as lockdown rules were gradually eased, the Philippine Statistics Authority said Thursday.

The PSA reported a 10 percent unemployment rate among Filipinos aged 15 and up, easing from 17.7 percent in April although ​still higher than the 5.4 percent level a year ago. ​

National Statistician Dennis Mapa said in a media briefing that the relaxation of community quarantine rules allowed more Filipinos to return to work. However, unemployment was worse in Metro Manila at 15.8 percent or about 929,000 adults, surpassing the national average and rising from the 12.3 percent share of jobless residents for the region in April.

Calabarzon tallied about 886,000 unemployed, while Central Luzon had 552,000 jobless Filipinos, he added. These economic centers also count among the biggest number of COVID-19 infections in the country.

READ: Finance chief wants Metro Manila, Calabarzon to be placed under MGCQ soon

Jobs restored

Acting Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick Chua said separately that some 7.5 million jobs have been restored, which includes 2.7 million returning workers earlier displaced by the COVID-19 pandemic and around 4.9 million others who got their jobs back. He pointed out the direct link between the level of community quarantine and trends in the labor market, saying the lifting of strict stay-at-home rules in most parts of the country allowed more Filipinos to go back to work.

Still, the unemployment figure is nearly double the 2.4 million adults who were jobless in July 2019, and remains the highest when compared to the same period in previous years. The younger age brackets of 15-24 and 25-34 showed the highest share of unemployment, accounting for two-thirds the sum. Around 61 percent of the unemployed are males, according to PSA data.

RELATED: Over 1M Filipino youth may be jobless this year due to pandemic – report

For the month, 45.88 million Filipinos were part of the labor force, an increase of 1 million workers. Meanwhile, there was a drastic reduction in the number of people who had jobs but could not report to work. From a high of 38.4 percent in April, the share is down to 3.3 percent. Mapa said this counts people who cannot physically report to the workplace due to restrictions on capacity and movement.

The tally is better than the estimated 7.3 million unemployed adults in April, capturing four months of quarantine rules that included a two-month shutdown of most establishments in Luzon, the country's main economic hub.​It also runs counter to a recent Social Weather Stations Survey, which showed as much as 45.5 percent of Filipinos jobless in July.

As of August 30, Labor Assistant Secretary Nikki Tutay said 83,654 businesses with 2 million workers reported temporarily closures while about 9,548 establishments with 180,207 workers have either retrenched or shut down for good. Meanwhile, some 1.2 million workers are under flexible work arrangements given existing quarantine rules.

RELATED: Gov’t to extend aid, subsidy program for displaced workers, employers

About 500,000 overseas Filipino workers have likewise been displaced by the public health crisis, which could rise to 700,000 by yearend if the global situation does not improve, Tutay added.

By sector, those working in the arts, entertainment and recreation industry remained the hardest hit with employment dropping by nearly 73 percent from last year to just 117,000 adults. This is followed by food service and accommodation, where more than a third of workers lost their livelihood as most travel and leisure activities remain under strict restrictions. 

Dine-in services for restaurants were only restored in late June for key areas, with strict social distancing rules prohibiting the full resumption of operations and recovery of sales and profits pre-pandemic.

Meanwhile, the mining and quarrying sector saw higher employment, alongside agriculture and forestry, human health and social work activities, wholesale and retail trade, and construction. These essential sectors were the first to return to full operations.

Some 17.3 percent or 7.1 million adults said they were underemployed, meaning they wanted to make more money given their current work arrangements. This is higher than the 6.4 million tally the previous quarter, with two-thirds working less than the standard 40 hours a week. Half of them come from the services sector.

Situation improving

President Rodrigo Duterte's economic team does not expect another spike in unemployment, with Cabinet members confident of a sustained decline in the coming months.

"As we see the virus pandemic more contained and as we see the quarantine more relaxed, we are seeing significant restoration of jobs," Chua said. "This will be a gradual lowering... but the result we see in the July survey shows that our policy direction and actions are showing results."

However, he pointed out that capacity constraints on public transport is stifling the full reopening of industries, as workers still find it hard to show up for work. Bringing more Filipinos back to work will likewise depend on each person's ability to follow rules on wearing face masks, frequent washing of hands, and social distancing.

READ: With ₱2.6-B funding from Bayanihan 2, DOTr to partially subsidize fees, fuel for public transport vehicles

Chua added that the country should be back to an unemployment rate of between 4-5 percent or around 2 million adults by 2022, matching pre-crisis levels.

Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said the restoration of work for millions of Filipinos is a marked improvement, adding that the agency has been focusing on online, digital, and face-to-face employment facilitation protocols to connect jobseekers with employers.

"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," Bello said in a statement.

However, the Nagkaisa Labor Coalition said the partial recovery in jobs is "not enough" for struggling workers and their families. Its chairperson Sonny Matula stressed that wages remain below last year's levels, adding that small-scale firms need even more support from the state to keep workers employed and for operations to continue.

"To bounce back from this crisis, we will need to open the economy even more.

This will depend on everyone working together to adhere to health standards, as the government accelerates the implementation of the recovery program," Chua added.

The sustained rollout of infrastructure projects under the government's "Build, Build, Build" program should create 1.1 million jobs, which will rise to 1.7 million by 2021. The economic managers added that the signing of the ₱165.5-billion Bayanihan to Recover as One Act and the timely passage of the ₱4.506 trillion national budget for 2021 should sustain public efforts on economic recovery and job creation.

Sergio Ortiz-Luis Jr., president of Employers Confederation of the Philippines, told CNN Philippines’ The Final Word that 90 percent of businesses are small enterprises, which employ 60 percent of workers in the National Capital Region. However, 50 percent of these businesses have permanently stopped operations.

He said assistance for businesses under Bayanihan 2 should come sooner than later since there are businesses that are waiting for it before deciding whether they should continue or permanently shut down.

Under the measure, ₱39.473 billion is allocated for capital infusion to government banks, of which P10 billion is for Department of Trade’s (DTI) Small Business Corp. that will use ₱4 billion for low-interest loans to MSMEs, among others.

Prior to this, the DTI allocated ₱1 billion to help restart operations of small businesses affected by the lockdown.