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What happened to jobs? | Inquirer Opinion

Believe it or not, we have more than recovered the number of jobs killed by the pandemic last year. We now have over two million jobs more than there were before the pandemic flattened our economy. The May 2021 Labor Force Survey (LFS) of the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) reports that there were 44.72 million employed workers in our economy, as against 42.65 million in January last year. So does this mean that Filipinos are now back on their feet again?

Not quite. Before we start thinking that the average Filipino worker and his/her family has gone over the hump, let me summarize what closer scrutiny of the LFS data from May 2021 and January 2020 reveals. The bottom line is this: While there are indeed more jobs now than pre-pandemic levels, there has been a drastic deterioration in the nature and quality of those jobs.

This should come as no surprise, knowing that total incomes in the economy, measured by gross domestic product (GDP) and gross national income (GNI, formerly known as GNP), fell by 4.2 and 10.9 percent, respectively, as reported also by PSA last May. The first measures total incomes resulting from production in the domestic economy, whether by Filipinos or foreigners (“Gawa Dito sa Pilipinas”); the latter measures incomes from production by Filipinos wherever they are in the world (“Gawa Ng Pinoy”). That the latter fell by much more tells us that overseas Filipinos lost proportionately more income than those working here at home.

How did jobs change domestically? Five key observations emerge. One, most displaced workers turned to trading (buy and sell), agriculture, and construction work. Jobs in the hardest-hit industries of accommodation and food services, transport services, and manufacturing are still 519, 495, and 94 thousand less than pre-pandemic levels, but trading, farming, and construction jobs now exceed pre-pandemic levels by 1.6 million, one million, and 390 thousand respectively. The next highest net job gainers are education (with 154,000 more jobs), government work (87,000 more including 15,000 in the military), and information and communication (73,000 more).

Two, much of our skilled workforce have been forced into low-skilled and unskilled work. Topping the job losers were managers (down by half a million), clerical support workers (-200,000) and skilled workers in crafts and trades (-189,000); technicians and associate professionals (-57,000); and plant and machine operators and assemblers (-23,000). They turned to elementary occupations like unskilled farm and non-farm labor (up by 1.8 million), service and sales (up by 754,000), and skilled farm work (up by 279,000).

Three, many wage and salary workers have become individually self-employed or unpaid family workers. Wage and salary workers now comprise only 61.8 percent of our total employed labor force, from nearly two-thirds early last year. This has reversed the steady improvement in job quality we had seen with the rising proportion of wage and salary jobs over many years. Worse, 247,000 less jobs in the “self-employed with employees” category compared to pre-pandemic levels shows just how badly micro, small, and medium enterprises have become casualties of the pandemic lockdowns.

Four, large numbers of full-time workers have been forced into part-time work. There are now 3.2 million more part-timers (worked less than 40 hours a week) than before the pandemic, and 1.4 million less full-timers. The bulk of new jobs that have emerged are part-time, and most likely inadequate to meet the needs of workers and their families.

Five, more of those still without jobs are better educated (with post-secondary education), aged 45 and above, and are women. The last reflects how most workers in the badly-hit retail and food services industries tend to be female. The other two attributes suggest a more severe toll on poverty incidence, as more mature and educated workers (thus probably less poor) have suddenly been rendered without incomes.

This all tells us that COVID-19 has left rather deep scars on the Filipino people, and healing them could be a much more protracted process than we may think.

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