Profile of the Filipino worker | Inquirer Opinion
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Profile of the Filipino worker

With Labor Day coming, it’s a good time to take stock of the current state of labor and employment in the Philippines. The authoritative source of data on this is the quarterly Labor Force Survey of the Philippine Statistics Authority, taken in January, April, July and October. The surveys ask a representative sample of around 44,000 households all over the country about their employment circumstances in the immediate past week of the interview, giving a “snapshot” of the labor situation four times a year. These snapshots reflect seasonal variations in the labor market; for example, the April unemployment figures traditionally tended to be higher because the new March graduates swell the ranks of the labor force who are (as yet) jobless then. With the shift in school calendars leading to May-June graduations, July could henceforth be expected to yield higher unemployment rates.

To understand the statistics, we have to know what they are measuring. To be counted as part of the labor force, one has to be at least 15 years old and either working or actively seeking work. Thus, younger children, housewives or househusbands, students, the disabled and the retired are not counted. Also counted among the labor force are those who are of age and available to work, but are not looking for work because of temporary illness or disability, bad weather, or a pending job application.


If one worked even for just one hour in the past week, he/she is counted in the survey as employed. A worker is classified as underemployed if he/she wants to work more hours in his/her current job or in a new one. One may already be working full time, or at least 40 hours a week, but if he/she wants to work more (because of insufficient earnings), then he/she is still underemployed. The visibly underemployed are those working part time and wanting more hours of work.

So where do Filipino workers stand at this time? The following four facts about Philippine labor may be gleaned from the January 2017 survey, the latest available.


Fact One: Joblessness has risen again. Unemployed workers, numbering 2.76 million, made up 6.6 percent of the labor force last January, up from 5.8 percent in the same month last year, and 4.7 percent only last October. In comparison, Thailand counts less than half a million unemployed, with the jobless rate at 1.2 percent in January. In fact, we continue to have the highest unemployment rate among the Asean 5 (i.e., Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand apart from us).

Fact Two: Less than two out of three are wage and salary workers. For every 100 employed Filipino workers, 63 earn salaries or wages, 27 are individually self-employed, 4 are operating a business that employs others, and 6 are unpaid family workers. Less than half of the wage workers are laborers and unskilled workers. The persistent debate on minimum wage hikes must take these numbers into account, as they imply that only about a third of the work force will actually benefit from such a move. Meanwhile, we run the risk of throwing even more of them out of work instead.

Fact Three: Unemployment is most prevalent among the young. It is often lamented that Philippine unemployment is primarily a problem of youth unemployment. For every 100 jobless Filipinos, 74 are younger than 35 years, and 44 are below 25. And for every 100 without jobs, 60 did not go beyond high school, with only 31 actually having graduated. There were 40 who studied beyond high school—9 in technical-vocational courses, and 31 who went to college. There were 8 who actually graduated from tech-voc courses and 16 who finished college, but still were unable to find work. Thus, while we need more jobs for the unskilled, we also need to address the continuing mismatch between skills and jobs available in the economy.

Fact Four: Underemployment remains high. For every 100 workers with jobs, more than 16 are underemployed and unable to make ends meet. Coupled with those without jobs at all, more than 20 percent of Filipino workers thus either need a job or an additional one. Our foremost challenge, then, remains creating jobs, jobs and more jobs.
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TAGS: Filipino worker, labor and employment, Labor Day, Labor Force Survey
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