January's 6.4% joblessness rate lowest since COVID onset, but fewer people find work amid tighter rules

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 18) — The tally of Filipinos out of jobs in January fell despite the return of tighter COVID-19 restrictions, but fewer people were able to actually work, Philippine Statistics Authority figures released Friday show.

The PSA estimates 2.93 million persons aged 15 and up were unemployed during the month — dropping from the 3.27 million tally the month prior. The national joblessness rate stood at 6.4% in January, the lowest since the record 17.6% logged in April 2020 during the country’s harshest lockdowns when the pandemic began.

Central Visayas logged the highest unemployment rate nationwide at 8%, while Cagayan Valley had the lowest at 4.3%. The survey, held January 10-31, did not include Surigao del Norte and Dinagat Islands due to the aftermath of Typhoon Odette.

However, National Statistician Dennis Mapa acknowledged that the labor force participation rate (LFPR) went down after Metro Manila and other areas reverted to the stricter Alert Level 3 due to an Omicron-driven surge in cases in January.

The LPFR, the percentage of persons 15 years old and up who are in the labor force, went down from 65.1% in December to 60.5% in January. In numbers, these translate to 49.55 million versus 45.94 million.

Meron ding impact ‘yung restriction natin at ito’y nakikita naman natin since last year na talagang pag stricter, ‘yung ibang mga gusto maghanap ng trabaho nagkakaroon sila ng hurdles. At ito’y nakikita natin sa pagbagsak ng ating labor force participation rate,” said the PSA chief.

[Translation: Our restrictions also have an impact and we’ve seen this since last year wherein when they’re stricter, those finding work are faced with hurdles. And we see this with the decline in our labor force participation rate.]

The National Economic and Development Authority separately said that employment levels — which eased from 46.27 million in December to 43.02 million in January – saw a “temporary” drop due to the Omicron variant-driven surge and shedding of seasonal jobs as the holiday season ended.

On a year-to-year basis, manufacturing gained the most jobs in January at 490,000. Big gainers also included administrative and support service activities, wholesale and retail trade and repair of vehicles, transportation and storage, and public administration and defense.

Agriculture and forestry, meanwhile, lost the most at 740,000. Education, real estate, and activities of extraterritorial organizations likewise slashed more jobs.

The underemployment rate also climbed from 14.7% to 14.9% in January, or about 6.81 million Filipinos seeking additional work hours or better work opportunities.

The PSA reported an average of 41.8 hours worked weekly for the month, up from the 39.7 mean in December.

With the latest figures, NEDA chief Karl Chua stressed the importance of placing the entire country under the loosest Alert Level 1 along with resuming all in-person classes.

“It will also free up the time of parents, one in four of whom have to skip or reduce work hours in order to assist their children with online classes at home,” he added.