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Unemployment eases to 3.8M in October from April's over 7M

The number of jobless Filipinos dropped further in October to 3.3 million from 7.2M last April as the economy slowly bounces back  on the back of the gradual reopening of the businesses after months of lockdowns to contain the spread of COVID-19.

In a virtual press conference on Thursday, National Statistician Claire Dennis Mapa reported that the unemployment rate was recorded at 8.7% in October. This is equivalent to 3.8M adult individuals --15 years old and over --without jobs or livelihoods during the period.

“[Nasa] 3.8 milyong Pilipino na nasa labor force ay walang trabaho o negosyo nitong nakaraang October 2020. Ito ay mas mataas ng 1.8 milyon kaysa sa bilang noong October 2019 na nasa 2.0 milyong indibidwal na walang trabaho o negosyo,” Mapa said, citing the results of the Philippine Statistics Authority's (PSA) July 2020 Labor Force Survey.

But the unemployment rate in October is an improvement compared to the 10% rate recorded in July, equivalent to 4.6 million unemployed adult individuals.

“This improvement in the unemployment rate was driven by the reopening of the economy and it could have been lower if the economy were opened further, coupled with the provision of safe and sufficient public transport. On the other hand, the country was also hit by a succession of four typhoons in October alongside the monsoon and La Niña, resulting in significant employment loss in agriculture,” Acting Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick Chua said in a separate statement.

Malacañang also acknowledged the improvement in the unemployment situation even as the number of jobless Filipinos remained high, said presidential spokesperson Harry Roque.

“Marami pa rin po iyan kaya nakakalungkot po iyan,” Roque said at a news conference in Palawan.

“Kaya po bahagyang bumaba ang numero ng mga walang trabaho ay dahil unti-unti po tayong nagbubukas,” he added.

It also compares with the record-high unemployment rate recorded in April -- at the height of strict community quarantines -- at 17.7% or 7.2M jobless adults.

“This unemployment rate is the lowest since April this year,” Mapa said.

The October unemployment rate brought the 2020 average at 10.4%, which is equivalent to about 4.5 million jobless adults for the whole year.

“Based on our historical data, [this] is the highest since 2005,” the PSA chief said.

The Philippine economy was in a standstill during the latter part of the first quarter due to the implementation of strict quarantine measures — enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) in Metro Manila and other high-risk areas from March 17 to May 15, followed by a modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) until May 31.

More relaxed restrictions were then implemented under the general community quarantine (GCQ) starting June 1. Metro Manila and four other nearby provinces, however, were reverted to the stricter MECQ from August 4 until August 18.

Associated Labor Unions-Trade Union Congress of the Philippines spokesperson Alan Tanjusay said that with the improving unemployment numbers, “we are slowly moving out of the deep woods that our economy is in.”

“To effectively address this high unemployment number, job generation has to come from the national and local government building infrastructure programs. The government must take the lead in providing more jobs through aggressive infrastructures spending which employs Filipinos,” Tanjusay said.

Despite the decline in unemployment figures, the labor force participation rate (LPFR) -- the number of those who are either employed or unemployed -- declined to 58.7% or 43.6 million Filipinos from 61.4% or 44.6 million in October 2019.

“This is the second lowest LFPR reported in the history of the Philippine labor market following the record low of 55.7 percent reported in April 2020,” Mapa said.

The PSA chief attributed the decline in LFPR partly to the school opening.

“May significant decrease in LFPR whenever there is opening of schools... Nagkaroon na ng pagsimula sa pag-aaral or back to schooling that’s the reason for lower labor force participation rate,” he said.

“Also, persons not in the labor force ang reason nila kasi we have the ECQ (enhanced community quarantine), the lockdown... ‘yan ang reason but we have to scrutinize this,” he said.

Employment rate

Employment rate, meanwhile, picked up to 91.3% or 39.8 million employed persons in October. This is an improvement from 90% in July and the record-low 82.3% in April.

“This employment rate was the highest since April 2020,” Mapa said.

Compared to last year, however, October 2020’s employment rate is lower than October 2019’s 95.4% or 42.5 million employed individuals.

The PSA chief also reported that of employed persons, those who reported with job but not at work, was estimated at 1% or 387,000 in October. This is the lowest number reported since April with the COVID-19 pandemic or community quarantines as the paramount reasons expressed by most employed persons as reasons for having a job but not at work.

Underemployment rate —the proportion of employed persons wanting additional work — further declined to 14.4% from 17.3% in July and 18.9% in April.

“Decreasing underemployment means that the quality of jobs is improving. This proximity to normalcy means that the informal sector is performing and the impact on poverty may be less severe than initially estimated,” Chua said.

This rate, however, is still higher than the 12.8% October 2019.

On the other hand, three regions still reported double-digit unemployment rates, namely the National Capital Region (NCR), which had the highest unemployment rate estimate at 12.4%, followed by the Region I (Ilocos Region) at 11.5%, and the Region IV-A (CALABARZON) at 11.0%.

By industry group, in October, the services sector was the dominant industry with about 57.2% share, followed by the agriculture sector with about 24.5% share.

In terms of year-on-year employment growth rate among the sub-sectors, arts, entertainment, and recreation had the highest decline at 38.2%, followed by accommodation and food service activities at 33.2%.

On the other hand, water supply, sewerage, waste management and remediation activities had the highest year-on-year employment growth rate at 23.2%, followed by fishing and aquaculture at 5.4%, and education at 5.2%. 

“Overall, the Labor Force Survey results support the need to manage risks more and further open the economy safely to restore jobs and economic activities, Chua said.— with Virgil Lopez/LBG/RSJ, GMA News