Social Climate

Subjective wellbeing is real

/ 05:16 AM August 12, 2017

For the second quarter of 2017, 22.2 percent of the adult labor force were Jobless, according to Social Weather Stations. On the other hand, 5.7 percent of the official (i.e., 15+ years old) labor force were Unemployed, according to the Labor Force Survey (LFS) of the Philippine Statistics Authority. The SWS and LFS figures are not inconsistent, because it takes only one hour of work per week to be officially classified as employed. (See “Realistic statistics on joblessness,” 3/4/17.)

The latest LFS also puts 16.1 percent of the employed as Underemployed—meaning wanting longer hours or else different work—which is equivalent to 15.2 percent of the labor force. This means that, officially, 5.7 + 15.2 = 20.9 percent of the labor force are dissatisfied with their current work.


Underemployment is an item in the LFS questionnaire that measures subjective wellbeing. When considered, the LFS shows the same real picture as SWS: lack of work is a problem for one out of five persons in the labor force. The problem is large, but has been decreasing gradually.

The real picture of economic suffering. The SWS survey of June 2017 found 44 percent of families rating themselves as poor, and 9.5 percent of them being involuntarily hungry in the last three months. These are subjective indicators that draw on the subjective judgment of the survey respondents, not the researchers.


On the other hand, official poverty, applying a very stingy poverty line on the 2015 Family Income and Expenditure Survey (FIES), is only 16.5 percent of families. This picture is less than half of the true picture of poverty (see “Unrealistic official poverty,” 11/12/16). Moreover, it is already two years old.

The true scale of poverty is more than double what is officially admitted. But it has been falling over the long term, with frequent bumps along the way (see “Lurching economic progress,” 7/29/17).

The real picture of personal progress. The straightforward and reliable way to measure the progress of the Filipino people over time is to survey them directly.

For seven consecutive years, optimism about personal quality of life in the next 12 months has exceeded pessimism about it by wide margins. For 10 consecutive quarters, those whose quality of life improved in the last 12 months have exceeded those for whom it deteriorated (see “Change came in 2010-16,” 6/24/17). For Optimists to exceed Pessimists is common; for Gainers to exceed Losers is rare.

The favorable trends in personal progress and in economic suffering have been due to mild inflation in the cost of living, not to economic growth.

The real picture of democracy. The percentage satisfied with how democracy works usually peaks after elections. It was 70 in 1992, 70 in 1998, 54 in 2004, 69 in 2010, and 86 in 2016. But it was only in the 40s for most of the Arroyo years.

The real quality of governance. The average percentage satisfied with the performance of the national administration was a Neutral +5 in the time of Cory Aquino, a Moderate +14 under Fidel Ramos, a Moderate +15 under Joseph Estrada, and a Neutral -2 under Gloria Arroyo, and then jumped to a Good +47 under Noynoy Aquino (see “The best rated administration yet,” 8/13/16).


The real state of neighborhood safety. For decades, SWS has surveyed about fears of home burglary, of danger in neighborhood streets at night, and of the presence of many drug addicts. These fears are stubborn; over half of the people expressed them in 2017 (see “Crime down, but fearful up,” 2/4/17).

To depict the true wellbeing of the people, subjective indicators are more practical and reliable than accounts in the mass media or social media.

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