Job Restoration is Our Priority
Jobs are synonymous with economic activities. The number of jobs available in the labor market usually determines the performance of an economy.
A family needs at least one member with an income-generating job to provide for the needs of everyone, otherwise, the household will be driven to poverty, if not starvation.
The Philippines has a large labor force, with over 41 million adult Filipinos considered employed as of January 2021. Millions of Filipinos were also working overseas and sent nearly $30 billion to their families in the country last year, helping augment household finances amid Covid-19.
But the pandemic has decimated millions of jobs across the whole economy, based on data from the Philippine Statistics Authority. For example, millions of bus, jeepney and tricycle drivers were forced out of work in April when mobility restrictions were imposed under the enhanced community quarantine. The land transport sector contracted 30.7 percent in 2020, or more than three times worse than the 9.5-percent slump in the gross domestic product.
Other heavily-affected segments of the economy are airlines, tourism destinations, shipping, hotel and restaurants, manufacturing, construction, education, retail trade, real estate, sports and leisure.
Overall, the ranks of the unemployed swelled to 3.93 million, or 8.7 percent of the labor force in January 2021, from just 2.38 million or 5.3 percent in January 2020, just before the pandemic hit the country.
Results of the January 2021 Labor Force Survey, however, show the number of jobless Filipinos has gradually eased on a quarterly basis from as high as 7.2 million (17.6 percent) in April 2020 at the height of the lockdown to 4.58 million (10 percent) in July 2020, 3.8 million (8.7 percent) in October 2020 and 3.93 million (8.7 percent) in January 2021.
Obviously, the reopening of various economic sectors and the increased capacity of business establishments have led to the restoration of thousands of jobs since April 2020. The LFS data show that between October 2020 and January 2021, about 1.4 million jobs were restored, as the labor force participation rate improved from 58.7 percent to 60.5 percent. In Metro Manila alone, some 269,000 jobs were restored during the period as the economy further reopened.
Economic managers welcomed the latest LFS data, saying the country is gradually winning back the jobs lost to the pandemic. The National Economic and Development Authority, though, noted that the smaller progress in the past quarter suggested the need to address remaining restrictions before the economy can get closer to normal.
We need to ensure that job restoration will be sustained in the coming months to save millions of families from poverty and starvation. While resorting to another lockdown seems to be an easy fix to contain the spread of the virus in the wake of reports that the new variants of Covid-19 are already in the country, it will defeat our efforts to restore jobs and revive the economy.
There is a better solution than locking down the economy. A calibrated, targeted approach is needed and requires the participation of everyone in observing health protocols that proved effective in curbing the spread of the disease in previous months. These protocols include social distancing, wearing face masks and face shields, disinfecting high-touch surfaces and regular hand washing.
Business establishments have been following the guidelines released by the Department of Health and observing the minimum public health and safety standards, and protocols in the workplace.
Meanwhile, local government units have a crucial role to play, as they are the ones that will enforce the health protocols at the barangay level and actively report new virus cases. Contact tracing and localized quarantines are critical in the successful containment of the virus infection.
A stricter monitoring of Covid cases will enable the national government to focus on the vaccination program in line with its goal to inoculate 70 million Filipinos, or 100 percent of all adults in the country, to achieve herd immunity by 2022 or early 2023.
I agree with the government economic managers that a calibrated, more targeted approach is needed to reduce the virus spread without affecting the healthy majority who are in need of jobs to address hunger and other health concerns.
If we manage to bring back more jobs this year by safely reopening the economy further, we may achieve the government’s GDP growth target range of 6.5 percent to 7.5 percent. The strategy will involve increasing the capacity of businesses and public transportation, relaxation of age group restrictions and allowing more establishments to operate, such as schools, sports stadiums and cinemas, as long as we follow the protocols with strict discipline.
The full economic reopening will spur business confidence. More foreign and local companies are interested to resume investment plans in the Philippines that will generate more jobs. Hopefully, the vaccination program will proceed faster to the extent that it will reduce the number of active cases, like what is happening in Israel, and provide us with greater confidence to restore jobs and achieve a strong recovery this year.