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Is 1 hour a week a ‘job’?

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“Jobless ranks hit new peak” ran BusinessWorld’s headline last Monday, May 21, based on the new SWS release, “Adult unemployment at record-high 34.4%,” sourced from the March 10-13, 2012, Social Weather Survey.

This unfavorable news should have been expected, since SWS had already reported very high levels of poverty and hunger in the first quarter of 2012 (see my column “Painful statistics,” Inquirer, 5/10/2012).  Poverty, hunger and unemployment are, of course, highly correlated with each other.

The new SWS unemployment figure was immediately protested by the Department of Labor and Employment, which claimed gross inconsistency with its January 2012 unemployment rate of only 7.2 percent, based on the government’s quarterly Labor Force Survey (LFS).

This piece will clarify the SWS measurement system, and the apparent main differences in the official system. Then I shall argue that the latter makes it so easy for a person to be defined as employed that the official unemployment rate lacks the capacity to alert the public about severe unemployment.

The new SWS media release has a chart that compares the SWS and LFS unemployment rates from 1993 to the present. It points out that the age coverage of SWS starts at 18 years, whereas that of LFS starts at 15 years.

From 1993 to the present, SWS consistently used the same survey questions to identify unemployment.  The LFS, on the other hand, used one set of questions before April 2005, and a revised set from April 2005 to the present.

The striking thing about the chart is that, before April 2005, the SWS and LFS unemployment figures were relatively close together. The SWS rates ranged between 6.5 and 19.0 percent; the LFS rates ranged between 7.4 and 13.9 percent. To me, this indicates that the difference in age-coverage is a minor matter.

However, from 2005 onwards they diverge sharply—the SWS numbers climb to levels above the earlier years, with increasing volatility, but the LFS numbers become so low and stable, ranging between only 6.3 and 8.3 percent, that they fail to warn about unemployment at all.

The SWS questions: (1) Kayo po ba ay may trabaho sa kasalukuyan, walang trabaho ngayon pero mayroon dati, o hindi pa nagtrabaho kahit minsan? Do you have work at present, no work now but had it before, or have you never worked? [Those with work are the employed. Note that there is no inquiry into how much time was spent working recently.]

(2) [Only for those who say they are without work.] Kayo po ba ay naghahanap ng trabaho o nagbabalak magtayo ng negosyo, o hindi? Are you looking for work or planning to set up a business, or not?  [Those looking (or planning) are the unemployed; otherwise they are not part of the labor force. Note that there is no inquiry about how much time was spent looking; neither is there need to justify why one was not looking.]

Since 2005, the LFS questions/guidelines (no Filipino translation) have been:

“a.  ‘Did____ do any work at all even for only one hour during the past week? [bold mine— MM]’ This question is asked to identify the employed persons. ‘Work at all’ for purposes of this survey means that a person reported to his place of work and performed his duties/activities for at least one hour during the reference week. If a person reported that he did some work, not counting chores around the house, he is still considered in the employed category although most of his time was devoted to household chores. All persons not identified by the above question as employed are asked the following questions.

“b.  ‘Although __ did not work, did [he/she] have a job or business during the past week?’ Some persons may not have work at all during the past week but may actually have jobs or businesses which they are temporarily not reporting to, as in the following cases: an employee on strike; a person temporarily laid off due to noneconomic reasons like machine breakdown; a person with a new job to begin within two weeks from the date of interview; regular and temporary teachers, excluding substitutes, during summer vacation who still receive pay and who expect to go back to their jobs in the next school year. These persons are considered employed even though they are not actually at work.

“c. ‘Did __ look for work at any time during the past week?’ This question is asked to determine who among those who had no job/business had really done something to look for work. If a person looked for work, he or she is classified as unemployed; otherwise, the next question asked is to determine whether a person should be classified as unemployed or not in the labor force

“d. ‘Why did __ not look for work?’ This question seeks to determine if the main reason for not looking for work is valid (see definition of unemployed) in which case the person is considered unemployed. If the answer to this question is schooling, housekeeping, too young/old or retired/permanent disability or other reasons not considered valid, then the person is excluded from the labor force.”

Source: http://www.census.gov.ph/data/technotes/notelfs_new.html#TECHNICAL.

Conclusion. The LFS questionnaire’s one-hour-per-week rule (which I think was introduced only in 2005) shows excessive intent in classifying persons surveyed as employed. Persons with so little paid work-time are bound to feel that they do not have A REAL JOB. In saying they have no work, and are looking for work, when surveyed by SWS, they are simply telling the truth.

* * *

Contact SWS: www.sws.org.ph or mahar.mangahas@sws.org.ph.


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