February 9, 2024
MANILA – Unemployment in the country decreased in December 2023, but concerns about job quality declining cannot be ignored, a socio-economic expert suggested on Thursday.
Filipinos who secured work at the tail end of last year also rated themselves as “poor” – a phenomenon that is “alarming,” according to Sonny Africa, executive director of the think tank Ibon Foundation.
Africa said such a situation could only indicate that the quality of jobs in the country is diminishing.
In an interview with INQUIRER.net, Africa pointed out: “If you only read the labor force figures […] that’s really the lowest in decades. But for us, what’s more important is whether the low unemployment rate translates to income.”
On Wednesday, the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) reported that the country’s unemployment rate slipped to 3.1 percent in December of last year, translating to about 1.6 million Filipinos who were either jobless or out of business – a new record low since the unemployment rate stooped to 3.6 percent in November 2023.
In January, the Social Weather Stations (SWS) released a survey showing that around 13 million Filipino families said they felt “poor” during the fourth quarter of 2023.
From Africa’s perspective, these statistics tell a clear story: Filipinos indeed have jobs, but their earnings are not enough to provide for their most basic necessities.
Also, in January, the SWS said that the involuntary hunger rate in the country rose from 9.8 percent in September to 12.6 percent in December 2023.
“The labor force survey says is that jobs are increasing, but if families can’t keep up, there’s only one meaning to that: the quality of jobs is declining,” Africa said.
“Jobs may no longer be sufficient to provide livelihood for families,” he warned.
More jobs, no savings
Another government survey revealed that the number of Filipino households with savings is decreasing – even if more Filipinos have jobs.
According to the Banko Sentral ng Pilipinas’ (BSP) Consumer Expectations Survey for the fourth quarter of 2023, the percentage of households with savings declined to 29.1 percent from 32.8 percent in the third quarter of the same year.
The BSP survey noted that this phenomenon was observed across all income groups.
The same survey indicated that Filipino family income decreased by 4.1 percent in the last three months of the previous year.
In December 2023, the PSA reported that inflation eased to 3.9 percent.
“In the labor force survey, it doesn’t matter if you’re irregular, if your income is low, if you’re informal, those are still jobs. They are still counted. It appears that this is what’s happening,” Africa explained.
“Let’s not use this survey [labor force] to say that Filipinos’ lives are improving,” he added.
Africa pointed out that they believe in the integrity of the country’s statistical system but urged the public not to look at one number alone since numbers rarely speak for themselves.
“We’re not discounting the veracity of statistical reports, but what the data is showing us compared with other findings is that jobs are not enough for Filipinos to earn a living,” he said.