2M unemployed need attention, not left on their own

BIZLINKS - Rey Gamboa (The Philippine Star) - January 19, 2021 - 12:00am

The massive unemployment caused by the continuing quarantines should be given more serious attention by the government. While global production of vaccines against the coronavirus is ramping up, the Philippines cannot expect unemployment rates to go back to pre-pandemic levels any time soon.

So far, all we are hearing from our bureaucrats is how pleased they are that the number of people who are without jobs have been steadily decreasing. However, unless 70 percent of Filipinos are vaccinated, a tall order given the available funding, millions will not be able to get back to decent jobs.

The reality is that every Filipino who has had to go through some form of work discontinuity during the last year, and more so those who still have not gotten back to work even when the quarantine restrictions were eased, continue to sink deeper in suffering.

No work

Take Reygie Lopez’s plight. Since March 16, when the lockdowns in Luzon were imposed, the construction firm that employed him on a project/daily basis stopped operations. With no work, and with a wife and two children to provide for, he had to scrounge for any kind of work.

His family received food packs from the barangay a couple of times, but this was good only for two months, at which time even their meager savings was depleted. By October when he was called back to work, he was several months behind in rent payments and with a ton of loans.

Take the case of Luisa, a single mother supporting a sickly parent and a child. Before the lockdown, she had several part time odd jobs in the community that somehow covered for their living expenses. With the quarantines, everything halted.

A sister who works abroad sent money for capital to sell cooked meals, but with many neighbors also trying to make ends meet, daily sales often did not cover the cost of cooking. In the end, daily expenses eroded the little capital allotted for the business.

Her family now manages to survive on a much reduced food budget and continued remittances of her sister – mainly for her ailing mother’s medicine expenses and their utility bills. Rent payments have been piling up and her landlord’s patience is being stretched thin.

Hunger pangs

For the estimated 2.1 million Filipinos who still have not gotten back to their previous productivity levels, of which Luisa now belongs to, this is a foreboding of poverty, of crossing well below the government standards of decent living for Filipinos where hunger pangs are too real.

As to be expected, more of our people are joining the ranks of the impoverished. Easily, we now have higher than a quarter of the 110 million Filipinos mired in the desperateness of poverty, a number that had exponentially grown last year.

Luisa’s plight is no longer a matter of testing endurance levels. Last year, she was thankful that she somehow miraculously managed to survive. This year, she thinks this will no longer be possible if she cannot get back to work.

Everyday, she asks when this pandemic will end and where she can find work to replace the ones that were lost last year. Her mother has implored her daughter who works overseas to extend her contract, fearing the loss of the family’s only remaining lifeline.

A chance to earn, not dole outs

Filipinos who have lost jobs are clamoring for opportunities to earn. The food dole outs distributed by barangay officials during the first two months under strict lockdown have long since been flushed down septic tanks, and the reality now is that each man has been left to his own.

This growing sense of abandonment must be addressed, and the best way to do this is to open up jobs and work opportunities quickly. Local governments, especially in urban areas where loss of work has been felt greatest, should step up with more creative job creation measures.

One idea worth considering is an urban gardening program, where local governments can temporarily provide jobs for people to cultivate vegetable plots for limited periods until the land bears food that can be harvested. The Department of Agriculture has a program to provide free seeds and technical advice.

Other public employment opportunities can be ramped up, with funds made more accessible from the local disaster risk reduction and management kitty. The Bayanihan as One Act, passed specifically to respond to the pandemic crisis, has allowed the lifting of the 30 percent cap on quick respond funds.

New normal ways and means

Now is the time too to encourage new businesses to open up. There is a wellspring of enthusiasm building up among people eager to open up new opportunities to earn, but are being held back by the lack of investment sources. More angel fund investors are needed.

Corollary, state banks empowered under the Bayanihan law should consider channeling small business loans through angel investors and venture capitalists, with a view to encourage new entrepreneurs to set up and replace those that were lost during the lockdowns.

The business of recovering lost productivity during this crisis requires new normal ways and means, some of which would have not been imaginable before, but may now deserve serious consideration.

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Should you wish to share any insights, write me at Link Edge, 25th Floor, 139 Corporate Center, Valero Street, Salcedo Village, 1227 Makati City. Or e-mail me at reydgamboa@yahoo.com. For a compilation of previous articles, visit www.BizlinksPhilippines.net.

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