Philippines: Jobless rate falls to pandemic-low in April

MANILA, Philippines (Updated, 11:41 a.m.) — The proportion of unemployed Filipinos in April eased to its lowest level since the pandemic began, thanks to temporary job opportunities related to pre-election activities and the harvest season.

Results of a survey of 43,500 households nationwide showed there were 2.76 million Filipinos who were either unemployed or out of business in April, down from 2.87 million in March, the Philippine Statistics Authority reported.

That was equivalent to a jobless rate of 5.7% in April, the lowest reading since the pandemic swept the country and roiled job markets. It was also slightly lower than 5.8% unemployment rate in March.

At the same time, PSA data showed the quality of jobs available improved. In April, there were 6.40 million Filipinos who were looking for more working hours to augment their income, down from 7.42 million recorded in March. This translates to an underemployment rate of 14% in April.

Data dissected showed five economic subsectors boosted the employment in April, led by administration and support service sector (349,000), accommodation and food service (343,000), transportation and storage (289,000), agriculture and forestry (251,000) and construction (249,000).

For Domini Velasquez, chief economist at China Banking Corp, the election and harvest season likely padded employment data in April.

“In April in particular, election and harvest season in agriculture contributed to better employment figures. However, we are concerned that many of the jobs generated since the start of the year are in the agriculture sector, which is very vulnerable to any weather disturbances,” she said in a Viber message.

Meanwhile, Leonardo Lanzona, an economist at Ateneo De Manila University, was not impressed with the pace of decline in joblessness. “Overall, the changes did not seem to be significant, considering that it was an election month,” he said.

Despite easing jobless and underemployment rates, data showed there were 48.39 million Filipinos aged 15 years old and above who actively sought work in April, down from 49.85 million a month ago.

At a press conference, National Statistician Claire Dennis Mapa said the top reasons why some Filipinos did not join the labor force in April were “household duties” and “schooling”. Mapa added that out of 1.15 million new entrants in the labor force in April, 993,000 of them found jobs while 154,000 were not hired.

For Nicholas Antonio Mapa, senior economist at ING Bank in Manila, sustaining the unemployment downtrend hinges largely on the economy’s ability to withstand headwinds at home and abroad.

“The current trend of improving labor market conditions will take its queue from current headwinds that threaten to blunt the economic recovery. Red hot inflation, surging interest rates and multi-year debt present a three headed challenge for the economy,” Mapa, not related to the PSA chief, said in an e-mailed commentary.

“Thus, it will be up to the new administration to tackle the threat early on to ensure stable incomes for Filipinos, who will likely bear the brunt of the triple threat higher prices, rising borrowing costs and slowing government stimulus,” he added.