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Employment numbers don’t reflect job-market dropouts — think tank

Commuters wait for public transportation along Ortigas Extension in Cainta, Rizal, Sept. 14. — PHILIPPINE STAR/ WALTER BOLLOZOS

By John Victor D. Ordoñez, Reporter

THE decline in the 2022 jobless rate masks the number of workers who have stopped seeking formal employment, IBON Foundation said.

“Reported unemployment doesn’t count jobless Filipinos who may have dropped out of the labor force after a long time of seeking but not finding work,” the think tank’s Executive Director Jose Enrique A. Africa said in a Viber message.

“As it is, between November and December, the labor force actually declined by 661,000 and the labor force participation rate to 66.4%,” he added, citing data from the Philippine Statistics Authority.

The unemployment rate in 2022 dropped to 5.4%, a three-year low. In December the rate had increased to 4.3% from 4.2% a month earlier.

Job quality improved in December, as the underemployment rate, which represents employed Filipinos looking for more work, fell to 12.6%.

Last year, the underemployment rate averaged 14.2%, the lowest since the 14% posted in 2019. 

“Amid a discouraging labor market, the decline in reported underemployment may not reflect more Filipinos content with their current work and earnings but rather Filipinos stopping to look for better work that is nowhere to be found,” Mr. Africa said.

He noted that Filipinos in openly informal work, or those employed in unregistered establishments, number 21.2 million, accounting for 43.2% of total employment.

Jose G. Matula, president of the Federation of Free Workers, welcomed the improved employment data but cited the need to sustain the development by helping micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs).

“There is a need for sustained efforts to combat price pressures, particularly non-monetary government measures,” he said in a Viber message.

“Congress should take action on laws that will provide subsidies for MSMEs and those that will establish a public employment program,” Mr. Matula added.

Headline inflation hit a 14-year high of 8.7% in January.

The Monetary Board increased its benchmark rate by 350 bps to a 14-year high of 5.5% in 2022. Its next policy review meeting is on Feb. 16.

The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas has said inflation will likely average 4.5% this year before easing to 2.8% next year.

“Accelerating inflation is really eating into the purchasing power of poor and middle-class Filipinos who have the least ability to absorb rising prices,” Mr. Africa said.

The International Labor Organization has said soaring inflation rates continue to diminish the purchasing power of low-paid workers.

Mr. Africa added that the government should implement policies that develop industry to create more high-paying jobs.

“Without bolder measures like a comprehensive national industrial and technology policy to build manufacturing, for instance, the economy will never be able to create enough formal, productive and high-paying jobs for its growing workforce and population,” he said.

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