Commuters queue for a free ride at the Metro Rail Transit Line 3 (MRT-3) North Avenue Station in Quezon City, March 28. — PHILIPPINE STAR/ MIGUEL DE GUZMAN
By Ana Olivia A. Tirona, Researcher
THE PHILIPPINES’ unemployment rate steadied on a monthly basis in February, but the number of jobless Filipinos increased to 3.126 million despite the gradual reopening of the economy, the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) reported on Thursday.
The unemployment rate stood at 6.4% in February, unchanged from the previous month’s jobless rate but smaller than the 8.8% in the same month of 2021, preliminary estimates from the agency’s latest Labor Force Survey showed.
This was the lowest share of the unemployed to the total Filipino labor force in over two years or since the 5.3% in January 2020.
In absolute terms, the ranks of unemployed Filipinos picked up by 201,000 on a monthly basis to 3.126 million in February. This, however, was lower by 1.061 million from 4.187 million a year ago when tighter mobility restrictions were still implemented.
The size of the Filipino labor force, meanwhile, expanded by 2.462 million month on month to 48.606 million in February. It was 1.265 million higher than the 47.341 million a year ago.
This translated to a labor force participation rate (LFPR) — or the share of the workforce to the total working age population — of 63.8% that month, a two-month high since the 65.1% in December last year.
After the Alert Level 1 in January, Metro Manila and other areas were placed under a more relaxed Alert Level 2 starting February as the number of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) infections declined.
“This allowed more Filipinos to rejoin the labor force. We aim to shift the entire country to Alert Level 1 to enable even more Filipinos to find work,” Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick T. Chua said in a statement.
As of April 1, the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) said 79% of the economy is now under the most lenient Alert Level 1.
Mr. Chua once again reiterated the need for the full resumption of face-to-face classes, saying this will allow more parents who supervise their children’s online classes to return to work.
“The unchanged unemployment rate simply means no dramatic improvement in the jobs market despite alert level going down,” University of the Philippines Professor Emeritus Rene E. Ofreneo said in an e-mail interview.
“The average LFPR in the pre-COVID-19 years was something like 65-66%. This means in the COVID-19 years, less number of working age population were actively ‘participating’ in the labor force (either with jobs or looking for jobs) due to what we all know — lockdowns and lack of available jobs […] However, it does not mean that the jobs market is okay,” Mr. Ofreneo said.
Meanwhile, Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP) Spokesperson Alan A. Tanjusay said in a Viber message there is an uptick in employment as some businesses saw increased activity due to the election campaign period. The national elections are on May 9.
In a press release, research group IBON Foundation, Inc. said the bigger employment numbers do not mean the job crisis is easing.
“Jobs being created [in February] are more in part time, self-employment and informal work than regular and formal work in private establishments,” IBON said. “This shows that millions of employed Filipinos are just trying to get by on whatever they can do to make a living.”
The quality of jobs improved as the underemployment rate — the proportion of those already working but still looking for more work or longer working hours to the total employed population — eased to 14% in February from 14.9% in January. It was also smaller than the 18.2% underemployment rate in the same month last year.
This was equivalent to 6.382 million underemployed Filipinos, or 15,000 less than the 6.397 million in January and 1.468 million lower than February last year’s 7.850 million.
The February underemployment rate was the lowest in nine months since 12.3% in May last year.
“The quality of jobs being generated is also a grave concern… Underemployment is still too high for comfort,” Sentro ng mga Nagkakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa Secretary General Josua T. Mata said in a Viber message.
The employment rate — the proportion of the employed to the total labor force — was recorded at 93.6% in February, unchanged from January but higher than the 91.2% in February last year.
In absolute terms, this was equivalent to 45.480 million employed persons in February versus 43.018 million in January, and 43.153 million in the same month a year ago.
A Filipino worker worked on an average of 40.8 hours a week in February, lower than 41.8 hours in January but marginally higher than 38.9 hours a year ago.
The services sector remained the largest employer in February, accounting for 58.2%. This was lower than the 58.9% share the previous month. It was followed by agriculture (23.9% from 21.7%) and industry (17.9% from 19.3%).
For Mr. Ofreneo, the decline of employment share in the industry sector is “worrisome” as it reflects the country’s incapacity to industrialize.
“Regarding agriculture, growth in employment is likely due to difficulties of rural population to find alternative jobs. I say this because the crisis of agriculture sector is well documented, especially the lament of farmers,” Mr. Ofreneo added.
Mr. Tanjusay, the spokesperson of the country’s largest labor federation, said for the coming months, the rising inflation due to the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict is “worrisome” and may threaten economic growth.
“The temporary employment (created during the campaign period for the) national elections will also factor in after the elections. Businesses and investors will also wait and see what will be the policies of the winning administration,” Mr. Tanjusay said.
The February round of LFS was conducted from Feb. 8 to 28.