Is your salary enough?

PERCEPTIONS - Ariel Nepomuceno - The Philippine Star

The most awaited day for employees is the 15th of the month. On this day, the ATMs become the popularly sought-after machine for salaried employees and workers who must eventually remit their hard-earned cash to their homes.

However, generally, are salaries of most Filipinos enough? Is yours enough? The impact of inflation is felt most strongly amongst the middle and lower classes of our society. The barometer are the prices of basic goods. Economists would use the changes in the prices of a pre-determined “basket of goods” to indicate the ongoing rate of inflation or increases in the prices of the said commodities. Typically, these are the expenses we incur daily for food, clothing and other household goods.

Realistic target is survival. On the verge of sliding further down, the objective of minimum wage earners is to beat inflation and avoid becoming poor.

In the National Capital Region (NCR), a family of five needs an average income of at least P25,000 monthly to afford their most basic needs. Lower outside NCR. However, the national average income is P18,423, depending on what report you’re using. In some, actually, the average monthly income is much lower at P11,000. Meaning, in the entire country, the average salaries fall below what’s necessary to sustain the minimal requirement for food, shelter, medicine, school and clothing, regardless of which report you would believe.

According to the statistics cited by the National Economic and Development Authority in 2023, underemployment dropped to 11.7 percent, while unemployment rate also improved to 4.2 percent. Good news, academically speaking, but meaningless to the more than 20 million Filipinos who are living in poverty.

Our workers and employees who are scared, consciously or not, to slide down towards the poverty sector are practically helpless in preventing themselves from joining the ranks of Filipinos who could barely support themselves with proper nutrition. According to estimates, a family of four to five persons must have at least P9,500 to have their barest food requirement. So do the math. How can a family who, on average, earns P11,000 to P18,000, allot the amount needed for food when they also have to spend for other necessities such as electricity, water, transportation and, if necessary, medicines? More often, of course, they have to sacrifice and juggle their meager funds. In the process, education is almost automatically thrown out as a luxury that they could no longer afford in their daily struggle for survival. Hence, education ends as their means for improvement.

It is important to remember that of the more than 20 million Filipinos who are living in poverty, most of them are farmers, fisherfolk, livestock workers and urban poor who are either unemployed or underemployed. Whether or not their income is enough needs no further research nor any long discourse. Belonging to this sector essentially means being malnourished, difficult access to education, nil chance for medicines or health care, inadequate clothing and poor living conditions. Furthermore, they are trapped in a vicious cycle of desperation.

Those in the middle class are vulnerable to price fluctuations that would consistently move upwards, not downwards. They diligently pay the correct taxes because of the automatic deductions in the payroll. Their take-home pay will be fitted against the expenses that could not be avoided such as rent, food, transportation, education.

Living within means is more than a mantra. Our income must determine our lifestyle. Not the other way around. Yes, we know and embrace this. The middle-class workers and employees know this by heart. The answer to the question if your salary is enough can be very subjective. But in whatever way we frame the answer, the average daily wages will not be enough to cover the bigger demands of living comfortably, not luxuriously. In the interim, it is a must that there should be more than one bread winner in the family.

Truth is, local businesses must expand. They must be supported by ensuring fair competition against the influx of illegal or underpaid imports. Abusive bureaucrats from the national government agencies down to local barangay officials must be ended. Squeezing more blood from employers could only go so far. We must also focus on how to create a better business environment that will make our enterprises prosper.

Substantial investments must come in. More jobs have to be created so that labor can be better valued and avoid underemployment and minimize unemployment. The elusive “ease of doing business” must happen soon, not later. The more than 30 signatures and 60 days just to register a corporation is anathema and an injustice to our need for more investments.

Is your salary enough? To some, the answer is yes. But for the majority of Filipinos, sadly, no. And the only way that this will change is for businesses to thrive and more investments to pour in.

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