Pandemic may keep more Filipinos poor, jobless until next year – NEDA

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 10) — More Filipinos could slip into poverty and joblessness until 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the National Economic and Development Authority said Thursday.

Acting Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick Chua said latest projections showed that the poverty incidence rate will range from 15.5-17.5 percent next year, coming from 16.7 percent or 17.7 million people in 2018.

"There will be some temporary increase in the poverty rate," Chua said during the Senate budget hearing, adding that more people living in the capital region and mega cities will be mostly affected.

"The COVID pandemic, the quarantines are largely affecting the urban areas, we are fortunate to note that in the rural areas, in agriculture, COVID is not threatening their livelihood," he added.

The Duterte administration wanted to pluck 6 million Filipinos out of poverty by 2022. This was achieved two years ago, but was likely reversed by the public health crisis.

RELATED: Pandemic could push an additional 120 million children in South Asia into poverty, says UNICEF

The Philippine Statistics Authority measures poverty incidence every three years, and the government had been aiming to trim the poverty rate to 14 percent or lower by 2022.

Chua admitted that previous gains may be erased by the "unprecedented" COVID-19 crisis.

He added that the number of Filipinos slipping into poverty would have been higher if the government "did nothing." For now, the focus is temporary support as well as the reopening of more sectors, which should let even more workers earn a living again.

"A significant number of jobs came back the moment we relaxed (quarantine rules)," the Cabinet official said, ​adding that the downtrend in unemployment can be sustained if more sectors are opened and if public transport capacity is raised further.

"The results in just one quarter show that the impact can be big if we loosen up our restrictions as safely as possible," Chua added.

From a peak of 7.3 million unemployed adults in April, the number went down to around 4.6 million in July, which captured two months of eased movement and industry restrictions in most parts of the country.

Senator Risa Hontiveros batted for the appointment of a "trabaho czar" to match the focus given on health response. However, Chua explained that the government's task is not direct job creation ­­— rather, the maintenance of an environment that ushers in business and investment, which will then open new opportunities for workers.

Chua said that the unemployment rate will likely simmer down to between 6-8 percent next year from the current 10 percent level, or about 7 million Filipinos. However, this would still be higher than the 5 percent jobless rate pre-pandemic, or an additional 2 million people unemployed.

Meanwhile, economic think-tank IBON Foundation described as “inconceivable” the poverty incidence estimates given by NEDA for 2021.

IBON Foundation executive director Sonny Africa noted that despite the massive job cuts and lockdowns brought by the COVID-19 pandemic, NEDA gave lower estimates than the 2018 figures.

Africa also slammed the inaccurate economic figures provided by the government saying they do not reflect the reality on ground.

He cited the economic managers’ pronouncement of four million jobless Filipinos, which he said is imprecise because they are not counting as "unemployed" those who are looking for work but are hindered by health and mobility challenges brought by the pandemic.

“It’s not the pandemic keeping people poor," stressed Africa. "It is government inaction.”