Results of the April 2020 round of Labor Force Survey (LFS) yesterday showed that unemployment rose to 17.7 percent – the highest since the 8.4 percent in April 2005 when a change in definition of unemployment was implemented.
Michael Varcas, file
Amid ECQ, jobless rate hits record 17.7%
Czeriza Valencia (The Philippine Star) - June 6, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Some 7.3 million Filipinos were jobless in April – the combined result of restrictions in mobility attributed to the coronavirus crisis and the delayed entry of young workers in the labor force – as the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) reported that the unemployment rate hit a record high 17.7 percent.

Results of the April 2020 round of Labor Force Survey (LFS) yesterday showed that unemployment rose to 17.7 percent – the highest since the 8.4 percent in April 2005 when a change in definition of unemployment was implemented.

In the January LFS round, the unemployment rate was placed at 5.3 percent, while in April 2019 it was at 5.1 percent.

As of April 2020, the pool of potential workers aged 15 years old and above was larger at 73.7 million, compared to 71.8 million in April last year.

However, fewer participated in the labor force in April 2020 – around 41 million, or three million less than the year-ago figure.

This brought the labor force participation rate down to 55.6 percent in April 2020 – the lowest in the history of the Philippine market – from 63.1 percent in April 2019.

The employment rate thus fell to 82.3 percent in April 2020, translating to 33.8 million Filipinos with jobs – much lower than the 41.8 million employed in April last year and 42.7 million in January 2020.

On the other hand, the underemployment rate, which measures the number of
workers with irregular jobs, also increased to 18.9 percent in April 2020 from 13.4 percent in April last year.

This corresponds to about 6.4 million underemployed in April 2020, from 5.6 million in April 2019 – an increase of about 781,000.

Malacañang has attributed the record-high rates of jobless Filipinos in April to the slowdown of the economy due to the coronaviurus disease (COVID-19) pandemic in the last three months.

“We are saddened – albeit unsurprised – by the April 2020 unemployment rate released by the Philippine Statistics Authority, which registered at 17.7 percent,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque Jr. said yesterday.

Roque expressed belief that the Filipino people will be able to rise above the challenges of COVID-19 in due time.

As a result of the pandemic, Roque said President Duterte was forced to impose community lockdowns since March this year that prompted the shutdown of various businesses, which eventually took a toll on the economy.

“This is an obvious effect of the economic shutdown when the entire Luzon area was in an enhanced community quarantine where most businesses were closed and many people were out of work and stayed at home,” he said.

Roque said the Duterte administration has been taking steps to alleviate the people’s woes through various cash support programs.

He identified these measures as the Social Amelioration Program (SAP) by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), COVID-19 Adjustment Measures Program (CAMP), the Abot-Kamay ang Pagtulong (AKAP) for displaced OFWs, Tulong Panghanapbuhay para sa Ating Disadvantaged/Displaced Workers (TUPAD) by the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE); Financial Subsidy for Rice Farmers (FSRF) by the Department of Agriculture (DA); and the Small Business Wage Subsidy (SBWS) program by the Department of Finance (DOF).

The National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) is also coming up with a comprehensive set of priority policies and strategies for production sectors, which include agriculture and fishery, industry, services and tourism, to enable the economy to recover and transition to the so-called new normal.

The surge in the country’s unemployment rate did not come as a surprise to the DOLE because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said the 17.7 percent unemployment rate recorded by the PSA is the “highest,” even surpassing the 10.3 percent during the 1998 recession.

Bello noted that before the pandemic, the Philippine employment situation was vibrant, expanding at 4.0 percent or 1.6 million net employment generated.

“When the pandemic hit, we feared that employment would be impacted badly. We expected these results given that health crisis has crippled most of our economic activities,” he said.

According to Bello, the imposition of community quarantine had led hundreds of thousands of establishments to resort to temporary closures or flexible work arrangements as evidenced by millions of workers affected in the formal, informal and overseas sectors.

“We also recognize the huge drop in the labor force participation rate at 55.6 percent, the lowest in the history of the Philippine labor market,” he said.

The lockdowns from March to May, traditionally the period of job hunting for fresh graduates, put the labor force at a standstill as two-thirds of the economy was shut down.

He, however, was optimistic that as the economy opens gradually, the labor market would also recover.

Community quarantine

National Statistician Dennis Mapa said the enforcement of the Luzon-wide enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) that severely restricted the movement of people to control the spread of the virus affected employment growth.

The entry of young Filipinos was also delayed during the first full month of enforcement of ECQ.

Mapa said the July round of the LFS will provide an updated picture of the employment situation in the country as lockdown restrictions are eased.

Acting Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Chua said the relatively weak increase in underemployment in April could be attributed to the provision of social support by the government in the form of various cash transfers and subsidies.

“This relatively smaller increase suggests that government support to the people, such as the social amelioration program, conditional cash transfer, rice subsidy and the unconditional cash transfer program under TRAIN, are working and reaching the people,” he said.

Labor groups yesterday asked the Duterte administration to address the high unemployment rate, saying the anti-terrorism bill has overtaken economic stimulus as government’s priority.

In separate statements, the groups have expressed concerns over reports of the PSA that the country’s unemployment rate surged to 17.7 percent in April.

According to Partido Manggagawa president Renato Magtubo, legislators are now more focused on the passage of the anti-terrorism bill while millions of workers are losing their livelihood because of COVID-19.

“Why did a terror bill that has gotten out of the store was picked quickly by Congress like an instant noodle? There is no terrorist menace surrounding our country right now to press a panic button,” he noted.

Magtubo added the pressing issue in the county now is “chronic poverty made worse by the pandemic and the widespread sense of helplessness at home, in the streets and in workplaces.”

According to labor coalition Sentro secretary general Joshua Mata, the government should roll out a more robust economic package than presently being drawn.

“We need a stimulus package that would be enough to pursue an agro-industrial policy aimed at supporting drivers of growth while providing employment guarantees and income guarantees for workers,” Mata said.

Defend Jobs Philippines spokesman Thadeus Ifurung underscored the need for the government to embark on “mass employment” to address the unemployment problem.

But the group surmised the figure is much higher than reported by PSA. Sheila Crisostomo, Christina Mendez

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