4M Filipinos unemployed in January, slightly up from October’s 3.8M — PSA

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 9) — Some four million Filipinos or 8.7% of the workforce were unable to find jobs in January even with government's efforts to reopen the economy following lockdowns, the Philippine Statistics Authority said Tuesday

National Statistician Dennis Mapa reported the Philippines logged an 8.7% unemployment rate among residents aged 15 and up, the same figure in October. January’s figure is slightly higher than the 3.8 million recorded three months prior, and is the third highest since April 2005.

Joblessness went down in October from the 17.7% recorded in April 2020, a month after the entire Luzon was placed under enhanced community quarantine.

This January, unemployment rates went up across all regions save Ilocos, Central Luzon, Central Visayas, Zamboanga Peninsula, Davao and main economic hub National Capital Region. Unemployment in Metro Manila slid to 8.85% in January from 12.4% in October.

Economic managers earlier noted that while the economy improved quarter-on-quarter during the last months of 2020, further recovery would be limited sans major relaxation of quarantine rules. The Philippines entered 2021 with most of its areas under modified general community quarantine, with few places like NCR remaining under the stricter GCQ.

In terms of sex, 2.4 million men were out of jobs in January, translating to an 8.7% unemployment rate among males. Some 1.5 million women or 8.8% of the female workforce, meanwhile, were out of work during the period.

The electricity, gas, steam and air conditioning supply industry suffered the worst drop annually across subsectors, logging a 34.7% contraction or some 38,000 jobs lost. Arts, entertainment and recreation followed at -31.8%, slashing 125,000 jobs. Activities of extraterritorial organizations and bodies, accommodation and food service activities, along with manufacturing also saw total jobs go down during the period.

Some 1.4 million jobs were restored in January, bringing the total number of employed Filipinos to 41.2 million. While this is higher than the 39.8 million logged in the previous three months, the recent figure is still lower than the 42.5 million during the same month in 2020.

The information and communication sector saw the biggest year-on-year growth among industries, logging a 25% increase or 93,000 more jobs. Human health and social work activities followed at 11.9% or an additional 133,000 jobs. Administrative and support service activities and forestry also saw employment increases along with education, which Mapa noted also covered individuals performing online teaching and tutoring jobs.

Meanwhile, 6.6 million Filipinos were underemployed, or those seeking more working hours and earnings. This corresponds to a 16% underemployment rate, up from both October and January 2020 figures.

The PSA noted that for employed adults unable to work, bad weather or natural disasters mainly restricted them from reporting to duty, followed by other reasons like job suspension and machine maintenance. Lockdowns and quarantine rules came in third, unlike in October when it was the top reason.

Of the recent labor force survey’s turnout, House Ways and Means Committee chairperson Rep. Joey Salceda emphasized again the country is “not yet out of the woods” especially with the increase in unemployed individuals.

The lawmaker partly attributed the rise in unemployment to the “failure of credit stimulus,” noting banks remain risk-averse and choosing trading operations over lending when it comes to placing their money.

“Second, the Executive Branch did not release the Bayanihan 2 equity infusion for government financial institutions in a timely fashion,” said Salceda. “Third, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) released stricter guidelines on lending, despite its own expansionary monetary policy.”

Meanwhile, ING Bank senior economist Nicholas Mapa noted how the labor market “remains just as challenged” even with state efforts to reopen the economy. The recent unemployment figure, he added, is likely to complicate the projected growth in private spending should the calls for nationwide MGCQ be heeded.

“The high level of unemployment will be around even if we relax quarantine measures as the scarring effects of closed businesses and jobs lost become more entrenched and the economy slowly spirals into lower levels of GDP,” added Mapa.

The Philippine economy has yet to get out of recession, having shrank by 8.3% anew in the last three months of 2020. The year likewise saw an economic contraction of 9.5%, the steepest plunge seen since the PSA began collating data on full-year growths since 1946.

Salceda likewise pinned his hopes on a speedy vaccine rollout to recover from economic losses.

“As more people are able to go out and the velocity of money recovers, we can then effectively pump-prime the economy with more government spending. That’s how we can create jobs sustainably,” added the lawmaker.

A timely vaccination drive is also part of the economic team’s “three-pronged strategy” to speed up economic growth and job creation this 2021 alongside a careful, calibrated approach to gradually reopening the economy and fully implementing the government’s recovery package, it said in a statement.

Among the measures included in the package is the Corporate Recovery and Tax Incentives for Enterprises (CREATE) Act which aims to improve fiscal incentives and lower corporate income taxes, a measure both Salceda and economic managers are counting on to create more job opportunities for Filipinos.

But labor group Defend Jobs Philippines doubted the unemployment data presented by the PSA, saying over 5.8 million Filipinos are really jobless due to the pandemic.

The group's spokesperson Christian Lloyd Magsoy emphasized the country has not seen any significant economic growth over the past months with the implementation of quarantine measures. He said almost 700,000 workers lost their jobs in the manufacturing and services sector.

"According to our economic managers, our economy will go back to its pre-pandemic level in 2022 or 2023. We are wondering why they said there are 4.5 million jobless, and then now they reported 4 million. We felt there is a discrepancy in the PSA data," Magsoy told CNN Philippines' The Final Word.

Magsoy appealed to the government to continue providing aid to workers and zero-interest loans to micro, small, and medium enterprises.