Elderly join Filipino grandchildren back in labor force to boost incomes

Prinz Magtulis - Philstar.com
Elderly join Filipino grandchildren back in labor force to boost incomes
Residents wanting to pick up some vegetables and other goods at the Maginhawa community pantry queue along the sidewalk of Maginhawa Sreet in Quezon City before dawn on Tuesday, April 20, 2021.
The STAR / Miguel de Guzman

MANILA, Philippines — Senior citizens are coming out of their retirement to return to the Philippines’ job market together with their grandsons and daughters in a bid to support falling household earnings.

People aged 65 years and up were responsible for the widening of the labor pool to its highest level in nearly 8 years in March, together with those aged 15-24 years old, National Statistician Claire Dennis Mapa told reporters in a briefing.

Senior citizen workers in particular rose 2.7% in March from February, while that of the younger generation went up 2.4%. The labor force participation rate rose to 65%.

The unfolding phenomenon supports other labor market shifts evident in the Philippines since the health crisis started: many are thrown to informal work with little to no social protections and security of tenure, while others locked up in their homes seek part-time jobs just to augment income.

This casts a shadow on the otherwise positive jobs report on Thursday that showed 2.2 million jobs getting restored, and the unemployment rate falling to its lowest during the pandemic at 7.1% in March.

“Household incomes have fallen so low after over a year of lockdowns that more and more youth and otherwise retired elderly are now also looking for work,” Sonny Africa, executive director at IBON Foundation Inc, said in a text message.

For the elderly, their meager retirement benefits from state-run pension funds are getting eaten up by inflation that spiked to a 2-year high in February. The pandemic is thus only compounding a problem that became more evident in 2018, when inflation hit a 9-year high of 5.2%, while average monthly pensions paid by the Social Security System even dipped 2.4%. 2020 data on pensions are not yet available.

For Alvin Ang, economist at Ateneo de Manila University, the labor force is only bound to swell further in the coming months, and if things do not get better, the elderly will see themselves looking for jobs beside new graduates, the first batch to do so under longer schooling.

While they may not necessarily compete for the same jobs in normal times, the proliferation of part-time jobs and Filipinos falling back to informal work are blurring job roles so much so that many are now temporary positions where senior citizens get hired.

With the economy yet to fully heal, this, in turn, would put some pressure on headline jobless figures as available work in the market fall short demand. “Graduates of (senior high school) might delay going into college due to lack of income,” Ang said in an online exchange.

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