ECONOMIC difficulties caused by the Covid-19 pandemic have forced seniors and undergraduate students to look for work, local economists said, as the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) released the March Labor Force Survey (LFS) showing an improvement in the jobs sector.
The PSA said on Thursday the country’s unemployment rate eased to 7.1 percent in March 2021, the lowest reported rate since April 2020. The Labor Force Participation Rate (LFPR) improved to 65 percent in March.
However, National Statistician Claire Dennis S. Mapa said the uptick in LFPR was mainly due to Filipinos 15 to 24 year olds and those 65 and over who joined and rejoined the labor force.
“These people should just be enjoying their old age with their family or focusing on their studies, yet they are forced to look for work due to circumstances they are in right now,” De La Salle University economist Maria Ella Oplas told the BusinessMirror.
“Probably, the combined financial resources of the household are no longer sufficient for their needs, hence the need for them to contribute,” Oplas added.
Based on data obtained by the BusinessMirror, the LFPR of Filipinos aged 15 to 24 years old and those over 65 years old have been increasing since January 2021.
Data showed that for those aged 15 to 24 years old, LFPR increased to 40.1 percent in March 2021 from 37.7 percent in February and 34.7 percent in January this year.
There are now a total of 8.04 million Filipinos in this age group, higher than the 7.58 million in February and 6.96 million in January 2021.
The increase between March and February reached 460,000 while the increase between March and January was 1.08 million.
Meanwhile, the total LFPR for those above 65 years old increased to 36.4 percent in March from 33.7 percent in February and 30.2 percent in January this year.
There are now a total of 2.29 million Filipinos in this age group, higher than the 2.2 million in February and 1.89 million in January 2021.
The increase between March and February reached 90,000 while the increase between March and January was 400,000 this year.
“Definitely. It will even rise as families’ savings get depleted because of the lockdown. More and more people of that age will look for work,” Oplas said. “It’s now a family affair to earn.”
Former Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Emmanuel Esguerra said the increase in LFPR was natural given the long lockdown months. People, Esguerra said, want jobs.
Esguerra said it was “plausible” that Filipinos who joined or rejoined the labor force are looking for ways to cope with their current economic and financial situation.
“One way of coping is to get able-bodied household members to look for work. By the way, if there’s data on school dropouts due to Covid, all the more possible,” Esguerra told the BusinessMirror.
Ateneo Center for Research and Development (Acerd) Director Alvin P. Ang told this newspaper that the situation could worsen but this will depend on how Filipinos adapt to their economic and financial situation, as well as industry’s adjustments in the coming months.
Nonetheless, the situation is expected to continue. Ang said as long as Filipinos incomes remain under stress, families will employ various measures to cope.
The situation now already shows the economic scarring and hysteresis that has been talked about in the past few weeks.
“[This will continue] hanggang kulang income [as long as their incomes are insufficient]. Kasi even after Covid-19, work may change significantly,” Ang said.
Oplas explained that many families are now challenged to involve all members in earning a living. In some cases, families go into small businesses where a mother would cook the food; children pack it; and fathers deliver the food orders.
She added that many informal jobs are up for grabs, and seniors and undergraduates are willing to take their chances with these employment opportunities.
The economist said many seniors have taken jobs as taxi drivers, which will have an implication on their health since they are more prone to contracting Covid-19.
While it’s legal to hire Filipinos who are 18 years old and below, Oplas noted that employers hiring 15 to 17 year olds may encounter legal issues. These workers may also be exploited.
“Definitely, we are seeing and experiencing the expansion of the informal sector. The problem is that they are not being monitored by the government. Therefore, exploitation is happening, nobody can come to their rescue,” Oplas said.
Meanwhile, former dean of the UP School of Labor and Industrial Relations (SOLAIR) Rene Ofreneo told the BusinessMirror in an e-mail that younger workers may not be hired outright as workers in the formal sector, especially those below 18 years old.
However, those below 18 may be readily employed by micro and small enterprises that operate semi-formally.
As far as seniors are concerned, the increase in their LFPR is out of “economic” necessity. Ofreneo said the small “ayuda” provided by the national government during the lockdown may have contributed to the decision of seniors to rejoin the labor force.
“It’s obvious that increased LFPR is more out of economic necessity, [because the ayuda is small and their needs increased],” Ofreneo said, partly in Filipino. “Undoubtedly, most of the elderly participants are in the informal sector, where there is free entry but very poor work standards.”
Action for Economic Reforms (AER) Coordinator Filomeno S. Sta. Ana III noted that while there were more 15-to-24-year olds and over-65s in the LFPR, it was a different matter to determine if they did get employed.
However, based on the PSA data, the country’s employment rate improved to 92.9 percent in March from 91.2 percent in February. This means a total of 45.33 million were employed in March.
“So there is an improvement in employment. But it’s difficult to make an overall assessment if we do not have the data on wage employment. That’s the best indicator of the quality of employment,” Sta. Ana said.
PSA data showed the number of unemployed Filipinos reached 3.44 million in March 2021, lower than the 4.19 million in February and 3.95 million in January.
Based on the data, the March improvement in the employment situation led to a net job creation of 2.2 million between February 2021 and March 2021, with the number of employed Filipinos rising from 43.2 million to 45.3 million.
The underemployment rate also decreased from 18.2 percent in February 2021 to 16.2 percent in March 2021, reflecting the improvement in the quality of jobs. In addition, more people rejoined the labor force, with LFPR improving from 63.5 percent to 65 percent.
With economic recovery after the ECQ was relaxed in mid-2020, 11.5 million jobs have been generated as of March 2021, more than offsetting the 8.7 million jobs lost in the period March to May 2020. This translates to a net job creation of 2.8 million jobs.
To help low-income families cope with the ECQ, the economic team said the government implemented a supplemental social amelioration program of P22.9 billion for 22.9 million individuals in the NCR-plus bubble, which includes the adjacent provinces of Bulacan, Rizal, Cavite and Laguna.
The government has also lowered tariff rates and increased the minimum access volume (MAV) for pork to address the supply shortage through importation and help curb food inflation.
This measure is seen to benefit 100 million Filipino consumers of pork, especially those who lost jobs or income with the quarantine restrictions.
Lastly, the government continues to intensify the implementation of the Prevent, Detect, Isolate, Treat, and Recover (PDITR) strategy to reduce Covid-19 cases and allow the lifting of the MECQ status by mid-May.
Among the key initiatives are the provision of more isolation and quarantine beds and the move towards automatic contact tracing.
Image credits: Nonie Reyes