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Business

A nation grateful for work

BIZLINKS - Rey Gamboa - The Philippine Star

As the nation gears up for the holiday break, having work that can bring home some money for even the simplest of fares this Christmas and New Year is regarded as a blessing by many Filipinos after going through the worst of times.

Yes, we are a people whose happiness index remains on the higher end of the positive experience scale if we are to consider the findings in the most recent Gallup poll taken in 2020 and early 2021, a period officially regarded as the most stressful in recent world history.

As the economy continues to reopen, spurred by the recent significant drop in reported COVID-19 cases, Filipinos look forward to new jobs – even temporary ones – that can somehow ease the burden of a prolonged belt-tightening during the past 18 months.

Many of our less fortunate countrymen, especially in highly urbanized areas, are reckoning with months of deferred rent payments, long-due electricity and water bills, and several lists of unpaid grocery purchases from the neighborhood sari-sari stores. Seriously dwelling on these, however, will have to be temporarily put on hold in favor of the holiday spirit.

Unemployment and inflation

The Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) has reported a sharp decline in the ranks of people without work, but looking for employment in October, and this trend should continue throughout the year as more businesses reopen or ramp up their activities in anticipation of the traditionally increased household spending during the last quarter.

Unemployed numbers may still be off from pre-pandemic levels, but the overall mood is that that the pandemic is nearing its end despite new emerging variants. Food prices are also easing, even though pork prices remain elevated because of supply scarcity due to the Asian swine fever.

The economic team has been hard at work trying to curb inflation, and despite criticisms of the negative effects to be caused by the temporary easing of import restrictions on pork, fish, and vegetables, food prices have lowered steadily over the last three months.

The PSA has reported that the November headline inflation, which is the rate of increase in the consumer index, is still higher at 4.2 percent than last year’s November figure of 3.3 percent; and remains in a precarious state if not managed correctly.

Still, the next three weeks,  barring any major economic upheaval, should see the economy coasting to a smoother finish, with both employment and inflation data improving. We can meantime leave all the worries of 2020 and 2021 for another year.

Still elevated poverty

On the other end of such improved numbers is the specter of a high poverty assessment, which the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) sees at a still elevated 17.5 percent  this year, affecting 19 million Filipinos.

Worse, the Social Weather Station reported in its latest survey that 1.7 million households had rated themselves as “newly poor,” a reversal of how they regarded themselves from at least one to four years ago.

Poverty, of course, is an expected outcome of the great economic upheaval of the recent past and has affected the most vulnerable communities, which evidently in the Philippines, are families residing in rural areas farther away from urban centers.

An ongoing World Bank survey points to an immediate effect of quarantines on rural livelihoods. While a lack of income opportunities and lower pay were already a problem before the pandemic, this significantly worsened as cities closed borders to control the virus spread.

The World Bank report further noted that rural communities suffered from prolonged food supply insufficiencies, as well as worsened health, sanitation, and nutrition issues. On top of the quarantines, natural disasters caused by typhoons and flooding likewise aggravated their conditions.

Tweaking programs

Interestingly, when quarantines were eased, the jobs that made a quick return in rural areas were in the retail sector, whereas work opportunities in the construction and public transport sectors remained elusive to them compared to those residing in the cities.

The World Bank findings are a useful guide for the NEDA to tweak its poverty alleviation programs, thus bringing such closer to achieving the committed 14 percent target set by Duterte when his term ends next year. Of course, the situation still depends a great deal on how this pandemic unfolds.

It will still be an uphill effort for NEDA to rescue the millions that have been pushed further into poverty by the pandemic. This will need the collective effort of government to introduce interventions that will quickly bring back wealth to rural areas, as well as to the middle class who likewise suffered from significant wealth loss.

Elections

It should help that the country is entering an election year, a presidential one at that, which will not just open new job opportunities, but also see the distribution of cash gifts and goodies by candidates wooing voters to be kind to them on election day.

In fact, the adverse poverty issues affecting Filipinos will greatly benefit political parties and personalities that can “share” more during the campaign period, even if their proposed programs of governance if elected are plainly rubbish.

If we see mediocrity rule, it will be a sad turn in our country’s efforts to have competent leaders able to continue with initiatives that portend better lives for its growing population. Unfortunately, in the last presidential elections, having a less-qualified government would have hardly mattered as the economy was on a bull run; such may no longer be the case today.

Facebook and Twitter

We are actively using two social networking websites to reach out more often and even interact with and engage our readers, friends and colleagues in the various areas of interest that I tackle in my column. Please like us on www.facebook.com/ReyGamboa and follow us on www.twitter.com/ReyGamboa.

 

 

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 [email protected]. For a compilation of previous articles, visit www.BizlinksPhilippines.net.

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