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(Updated 7:19 p.m.) Unemployment continued to be the fly in the ointment that is the recent upswing in the Philippine economy, based on a new survey by pollster Social Weather Stations. According to the SWS's March 19-22 survey unemployment among Filipinos aged 18 and up rose to 25.4 percent—equivalent to 11.1 million jobless Filipinos. This was a million more than the estimated 10.1 million jobless Filipinos in December, when unemployment among Filipinos was at 24.6 percent. By comparison, the official unemployment rate was 7.1 percent as of January, equivalent to 2.89 million Filipinos. This was an increase from the 6.8 percent in October 2012. Think-tank Ibon Foundation pointed out that the latest SWS survey reflects the problem in government's economic policies, which is biased towards foreign investors' wants than Filipinos' needs, particularly the creation of more stable jobs. "The government relies heavily on foreign investors to make investments in the services sector, when they are here on terms profitable for them like cheap labor and importing of cheaper materials for assembly here," Ibon executive director and economist Sonny Africa told GMA News Online on Thursday. "If the government orientation regarding foreign investors will not change, only foreigners will benefit" from the robust economic growth the country is currently experiencing, he added. Still, the SWS poll found more Filipinos upbeat on job availability for the next 12 months, with net optimism up three points to a "fair" of +13. SWS noted that unemployment had been high since May 2005, going below 20 percent only thrice. The last time it did so was in September 2010, at 18.9 percent. The survey used the traditional definition of “unemployed” as those who are not working and are looking for work. The employed were those with work at present, including unpaid family workers, with no past reference period. 'Structural economic problem' “Unemployment is only part and parcel of a larger structural economic problem,” Philippine Economics Society president Alvin Ang told GMA News Online in a separate interview. The problem is investments are not funneled into sectors that would benefit majority of Fiipinos, like in agriculture and manufacturing, noted Ang, who is also an economics professor at University of Santo Tomas. “The problem has long been in front of us all along,” the economist said. Ang said solving the country's unemployment problem also requires generating more “quality jobs”—more than ensuring that investments are put into productive sectors. “Beyond that there are people who have jobs but are unsustainable—they are either contractual or are working in informal sectors,” he said. “With the lack of quality jobs, those who are underemployed or have unsustainable work will joint the unemployed soon enough.” Quality jobs refer to employment that provide decent wages, job security, advancement opportunities, and healthy working environment where workers are treated fairly and have a voice in their daily activities at work and about the overall working conditions, according to the American Center for Law and Social Policy. The SWS survey's respondents were those at least 18 years old. By comparison, the official definition of employed included those who, during the week before the interview date, were at least 15 years old and were either at work or with a job but not at work. Since 2005, the official definition of unemployed required that the individual not be working, be looking for work, and be available for work. But SWS said that if it had used the official definitions, the jobless rate among adults 18 years old and above would be 15.4 percent, or about six million Filipinos. "This means 9.9 percent are looking for a job but are not available at present or in the next two weeks," it said. Joblessness breakdown Dominating the ranks of the jobless were those who quit at 12 percent, while those who were retrenched was at 8 percent. The remaining five percent who were jobless were first-time jobseekers. Of the 8 percent retrenched, those whose contracts were not renewed fell to 6 percent from 7 percent, those whose firms closed decreased to 1 percent from 2 percent, and those laid off remained at 1 percent. The survey found the proportion of those who quit was up from 11 percent and the share of first-time jobseekers rose from 3 percent. The survey showed joblessness increased everywhere, except among women and those in the 25-34-years-old bracket. Among men, joblessness went up two points to 17.3 percent but hardly changed at 35.4 percent from 35.7 percent for women. It fell by a point among "intermediate youth" aged 25 to 34 to 31.8 percent, and hardly changed at 15.8 percent from 15.5 percent among those aged 45 and up. But it rose three points to 23 percent among the middle-aged (35-44) and by two points to 49.6 percent among the youth (18-24). Asked on the difference between the SWS results and official unemployment data, Ang said: “I'm not questioning the validity of both. They both have statistically sound methods.” According to the economist, the difference between the two unemployment surveys are the time it was conducted and the coverage of samples. The SWS conducts unemployment surveys in March, June, September and December; while the state statistics agency does it in January, April, July and November, said Ang. Moreover, the state's Labor Force Survey has a larger sample size. “I won't quibble over who's more accurate. They both point to alarming status of employment here despite recent economic strides. I'd rather focus on how to solve the problem,” Ang noted. More optimism than pessimism Optimists, or those who think there will be more jobs in the next 12 months, outnumbered the pessimists, or those with the opposing view. The survey showed 34 percent of the respondents were upbeat about employment prospects, 21 percent said there would be fewer jobs and 28 percent expected no change. Last December, 32 percent were optimistic, while 22 percent said there would be fewer jobs and 34 percent expected no change. The March 19-22 survey used face-to-face interviews of 1,200 adults nationwide. Sampling error margins of ±3% for national and ±6% for area percentages applied to the survey. SWS published the results of its latest survey Thursday through its media partner Business World. Resources processed by Pinoys Africa stressed that the best way to create more stable jobs is to "have domestic resources processed by Filipinos themselves." "Kung ang produkto ay gawa sa Pilipinas, magkakaroon ng libu-libong trabaho para sa Pilipino, magkakaroon ng dagdag na kita para sa bawat Pilipino...mas magiging inclusive ang paglago ng ekonomiya," Africa said in an interview on GMA News' “News-To-Go” on Wednesday. But since foreign investors have been here for couple of decades, the government should take measures to get benefits from them. "This can be through technology transfer, so learning can happen to Philippine manufacturers, sourcing of materials locally for manufacturing and directing a portion of profits of foreign companies back to the Philippine economy," Africa said.
In March this year, Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan said the government is preparing an updated version of the Medium-Term Development Plan (MTDP) focusing on people and quality jobs to address the growing number of jobless Filipinos.
“In this update, we intend to put job creation at the center of the plan,” Balisacan told reporters. — With Danessa Rivera and Sieg Alegado/DVM/KG/VS, GMA News