Monday, May 29, 2017
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Social Climate

What statistics matter?

Last May 18, the government released the national income accounts for the first quarter of 2017. Compared to the first quarter of 2016, Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was up by 6.4 percent, and GDP per person was up by 4.9 percent. So there was more production for each Filipino to enjoy—potentially.

But the actual enjoyment of the production was not evenly shared.  I say this on the basis of SWS surveys showing that general poverty rose, both over the last quarter and over the last four quarters (see “Poverty hits a bump,” Opinion, 5/5/17).  At the same time, food-poverty was flat, and hunger was down, so the economic wellbeing trend was mixed.  The government cannot dispute the SWS trend since it lacks its own quarterly statistics of poverty or hunger.

Population statistics matter more. An oversize population is a great drag on economic wellbeing.  Our annual population growth rate fell steadily from 2.7 percent in 1986 to 1.7 percent in 2007, but afterward was very flat at 1.6 percent.  We match Cambodia as the second-fastest growing in Asean, after Lao PDR’s 1.7 percent.  Elsewhere, the growth rates are: Malaysia, 1.4; Singapore, 1.2; Vietnam, 1.1; Myanmar, 0.9; and Thailand, 0.3 (World Bank data of 2015).

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Our prevalence of contraceptive use, among women 15-49 years old, is only 55.1 percent (2013).  It is the second-lowest after Lao PDR’s 49.8 percent.  Other countries have superior prevalence: Cambodia, 56.3; Indonesia, 62.5; Vietnam, 75.7; and Thailand, 79.3 (reference years 2012-14).  We can do much better when the Reproductive Health Law gets implemented (see “I am a nun but I am pro-RH law—Sr. Mary John Mananzan,” Rappler, 5/16/17).

High school statistics matter more.  It should be no surprise that half of Filipino households rate themselves as poor, since their capacity to earn a decent income depends very much on their schooling.

Every Social Weather Survey has two samples, one consisting of adults (at least 18 years old), and another consisting of household heads; both samples are statistically representative of the whole population.

In the SWS survey for the first quarter of 2017, only 55 percent of adults and only 51 percent of household heads had completed at least high school. Only 28 percent of adults, and only 24 percent of household heads, had further training, either academic or vocational, beyond high school. At present, therefore, about half of high school finishers, whether adults or household heads, stopped their schooling right at that point.

SWS did surveys twice a year in 1986-91, and from 1992 onward did four (and sometimes more) per year.  Taking the average of the five SWS surveys of 1992, only 50 percent of adults and 44 percent of household heads had completed at least high school. This means that, in the 25 years between 1992 and 2017, the high school completion rate rose by only 5 points among adults, and by only 7 points among household heads.

To me, this is excruciatingly slow.  I think that poverty eradication requires at least 75 percent of household heads to have a full basic education, up to senior high school.  Even 50 years will not be enough for this, if the rate of progress is merely like that of 1992-2017.

Wage statistics are needed, but they hardly exist.  I think that the task of learning how to fight poverty requires constant public monitoring of actual rates of wages and salaries.  This should be done monthly, just as prices of products and services are monitored monthly, to make indexes of the cost of living.

I do not imply that wages should be set by legislation or similar directive.  GDP-growth is impossible to legislate, yet regularly measured.  Why be nervous about developing wage statistics?

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Contact mahar.mangahas@sws.org.ph.

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TAGS: economy, GDP, hungers, Inquirer Opinion, Mahar Mangahas, Population, Poverty, Social Climate, Social Weather Stations, statistics, SWS
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