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Jobless rate inches up to 4.5% in September

The local government unit of Pasay City launched a Job Fair on Tuesday, November 7, 2023, where residents of Pasay City who are looking for employment queued up. There are around 5,000 vacant job opportunities waiting for the residents of Pasay. — PHILIPPINE STAR/EDD GUMBAN

THE NUMBER of jobless Filipinos rose by 50,000 from a month earlier to 2.26 million in September, even as the underemployment rate hit its lowest level in over 18 years, the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) said on Wednesday.

Data from the PSA showed the 4.5% unemployment rate was worse than 4.4% in August, but better than the 5% or 2.5 million jobless Filipinos a year ago, it said.

“President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr.’s ultimate goal is to bring down unemployment to 4-5% in 2028. Right now, the year-to-date unemployment rate is at 4.6%, way below the 5.3-6.4% target for 2023,” Finance Secretary Benjamin E. Diokno said in a statement.

The underemployment rate — a measure of job quality — fell to 10.7% from 11.7% in August and 15.4% a year earlier. This is equivalent to 5.11 million employed Filipinos still looking for more work or longer working hours.

The Finance department said in a statement this was the lowest ever underemployment rate since the PSA updated its definition in April 2005.

Year to date, the underemployment rate averaged 12.5%, lower than the 14.4% a year ago.

“Our underemployed number and rate are decreasing so those are indicators that workers are getting better quality jobs compared to last year,” PSA Undersecretary and National Statistician Claire Dennis S. Mapa said in a news briefing.

Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation (RCBC) Chief Economist Michael L. Ricafort said in a Viber message that the month-on-month increase in the jobless rate can be partly attributed to the reduced business activities in the first half of September which is considered part of “ghost month.”

He also noted the typhoons in early September could have weighed on business and economic activities, which led to the uptick in unemployment. Other factors that contributed to the higher joblessness include high borrowing costs that have led businesses to reduce spending and investments, he added.

The size of the total labor force stood at 49.93 million in September, lower than 50.29 million in August and 50.08 million a year ago.

This brought the labor force participation rate (LFPR) — the share of the Filipino workforce to the total working age population of 15 years old and older — to 64.1% in September. This was lower than 64.7% in August and 65.2% in the same month last year.

Despite the lower LFPR, Mr. Ricafort said the “employment data still among the best since the pandemic started.”

The country’s employment rate slipped to 95.5% in September from 95.6% in August but slightly higher than 95% in the same month a year ago.

The number of employed persons stood at 47.67 million in September, slightly lower than 48.07 million in August but higher than 47.58 million in the same month in 2022.

National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) Secretary Arsenio M. Balisacan said the government will continue to improve existing policies to attract businesses that generate “high-quality employment.”

“In the coming months, the agriculture sector will likely be adversely affected by the strong El Niño. Guided by the El Niño National Action Plan (NAP), the government will implement more programs to develop a more resilient agriculture sector. This will help minimize employment losses in the sector,” he said in a statement.

In September alone, agriculture and forestry shed 1.17 million jobs to 8.94 million from August’s 10.11 million. Agriculture jobs fell by 649,000 from the same month a year ago. Fisheries and aquaculture lost 363,000 jobs month on month to 1.31 million in September.

The shrinking of the agriculture and industry sector should prompt the government to act on the modernization of agriculture sectors, said Federation of Free Workers (FFW) president Jose “Sonny” G. Matula.

“Modernization of agriculture is a cornerstone for not just boosting food manufacturing but also for sparking a wave of quality job creation in the industrial sector,” he said.

Labor group Kilusang Mayo Uno secretary general Jerome Adonis said the job losses in manufacturing, retail trade, and agriculture “reflects the disappearance of sustainable jobs.”

“Supposedly, if we want to advance the economy of the country, this is where the focus should be because when these sectors prosper, more jobs will be created,” he said. — Jomel R. Paguian

Neil Banzuelo

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