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Social Climate
Measuring the OFW advantage

By Mahar Mangahas
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:54:00 05/24/2008

Filed Under: Overseas Employment, Demographics, Statistics, Poverty

MANILA, Philippines?Overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) have done so much to improve the quality of life of their families in the Philippines as to make these families a demographic group deserving of its own statistics. Such families are now being identified in the regular Social Weather Surveys, from the question: ?Is there a family member in this household who is currently working abroad, or not??

One out of six or seven families in the nation is an OFW family, which I will abbreviate as OF; a non-OFW family will be NOF. The OF-proportion was 14 percent in the First Quarter 2008 survey of the poll group Social Weather Stations; it has been as high as 17 percent in previous surveys. Out of the country?s 18 million families, more or less 2.5 million families have an OFW working abroad.

These 2.5 million OFs are spread out geographically, but with Metro Manila a bit over-represented and Mindanao a bit under-represented, relative to their populations. There are about 500,000 in Metro Manila, 1.1 million elsewhere in Luzon, 500,000 in the Visayas, and 400,000 in Mindanao.

Note that OFs refer to the families that the OFWs left behind in the Philippines, and not the OFWs themselves:

? Forty-two percent of OFs, compared with only 32 percent of NOFs, are headed by women?when husbands are away, their wives take over.

? Heads of OFs tend to be older: 42 percent of them, compared with only 29 percent of heads of NOFs, are at least 55 years old.

? Heads of OFs tend to be more educated: 22 percent of them, compared with only 12 percent of NOFs, have college degrees.

Socioeconomic status. It is good to see that the D class, or ?masa,? is very well represented among the OFs. The March 2008 survey implies that 1.7 million OFs are ?masa.? About 600,000 OFs are ABCs, or middle-to-upper class; this is an over-representation of ABCs. About 200,000 OFs are Es, or very poor; Es are under-represented but not wholly excluded.

OFs are clearly better off than NOFs in terms of material possessions:

Security from poverty and hunger. More critical than material possessions, however, is security from economic deprivation.

Poverty among OFs is only half that of NOFs. Only 27 percent of OFs, compared with 54 percent of NOFs, rate their families as poor, or ?mahirap.?

Poor OFs have a median threshold of P12,000 per month for home expenses to avoid being poor. Poor NOFs, however, have a median of only P6,000. Thus OFs also have much higher living standards than NOFs. (The median is the amount sufficient to satisfy half of the poor.)

On the other hand, 35 percent of OFs, compared with only 25 percent of NOFs, rate their families as not poor, or ?hindi mahirap.? (The balances from 100 percent are those who see themselves on the borderline between poverty and non-poverty.)

The experience of hunger among OFs is less than half as frequent as among NOFs. Only 7.6 percent of OFs, versus 17.0 percent of NOFs, say that they experienced hunger at any time within the last three months, without having anything to eat, i.e., involuntarily.

Moderate hunger (experiencing it only once or a few times in the last three months) is 5.6 percent among OFs, compared to 13.6 percent among NOFs.

Severe hunger (suffering often or always in the last three months) is 2.0 percent among OFs, versus 3.4 percent among NOFs.

Trends in quality of life. A trend is a change over time, whereas a status is a position at one point in time. The SWS surveys measure past trend in quality of life (?uri ng pamumuhay?) of the family by asking the household heads if it has gotten better, gotten worse, or remained the same compared to 12 months ago. The surveys measure future trend by asking if they expect the quality of life of the family to get better, get worse, or remain the same in the next 12 months.

Relative to the past, 28 percent of OFs said they gained and 39 said they lost, for an unfavorable ?gainers minus losers? score of -11. Among NOFs, however, only 17 percent said they gained, whereas 51 percent said they lost, for a dismal past trend score of -35.

Projecting into the future, 42 percent of OFs expect their quality of life to get better and 16 percent expect it to get worse, for a fairly good ?optimists minus pessimists? score of +26. Among NOFs, only 27 percent are optimists, and 24 percent are pessimists, for a merely neutral future trend score of +3.

In viewing these figures, one should bear in mind that the advantages of the OFs were earned for them by their OFWs??ang mga bayani ng bayan? [the heroes of the nation].

Satisfaction with President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Incidentally, the advantages of OFs over NOFs do not translate into any difference between them in appraisal of national governance, as indicated by satisfaction with the performance of President Arroyo.

Among OFs, 25 percent said they are satisfied and 52 percent said they are dissatisfied with the performance of Ms Arroyo; that gives a net satisfaction rate of -27. Among NOFs, 28 percent are satisfied and 54 percent are dissatisfied, with her performance, for a net satisfaction of -26.

* * *

Special tabulations for this column were done by Clarence Magano of Social Weather Stations (SWS). Figures cited here are from the March 28-31, 2008 Social Weather Survey, at the national level.

* * *

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

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