In and out of poverty
The SWS report on Self-Rated Poverty (SRP) for September 2017 has just been released, but this piece is not about the latest quarterly movement in poverty. (If the new report is not in the papers by today, look up www.sws.org.ph. I suggest viewing it in the light of these earlier columns, “Poverty hits a bump,” 5/6/17, and “Poverty has dropped since 2014,” 1/21/17.)
The new SRP media release reports, for the first time, what the Poor say about when in the past, if ever, they were not poor, and what the Nonpoor say about when in the past, if ever, they were poor.
The term Poor, with a capital P, refers to those who point to the word mahirap on a card with the word mahirap (poor) and, separated by a line, the words hindi mahirap (not poor). The term Nonpoor, with a capital N, refers to those who point to either hindi mahirap or the borderline.
For three years now, SWS has been asking household heads that rate their families as mahirap the following: “Nangyari na po ba, kailanman sa mga nakaraang taon, na ang pamilya ninyo ay hindi mahirap? KUNG OO: Kailan po ang pinakamalapit na taon na nangyari ’yon?” “Did it already happen, anytime in past years, that your family was not poor? IF YES: When was the latest year that it happened?”
In September 2017, three-fourths of the Poor said that their families had always been that way. The other one-fourth, who said there was a time when they were not poor, were evenly split between those who last experienced it five or more years ago and those who last experienced it one to four years ago.
The great majority of the Poor have never been otherwise; they are always-poor. Of the remaining balance of the Poor, half have been usually-poor—they became poor at least five years ago—and the other half are recently-poor—becoming poor only in the last few years.
By asking the Nonpoor an appropriate counterpart question, the SWS September 2017 survey discovered that almost half of the Nonpoor had always been so. Of the remainder, most said they had been poor five or more years ago, and the rest said they had been poor one to four years ago. I shall call these groups the always-secure, the usually-secure, and the recently-secure, with respect to their economic security against poverty.
Put together, the Poor and the Nonpoor form a top-to-bottom economic spectrum of the always-secure, usually-secure, recently-secure, recently-poor, usually-poor, and always-poor.
The largest band of this spectrum is at the bottom, occupied by the always-poor; they constitute over one-third of Filipino families. The second-largest band of the spectrum is at the top, containing the always-secure; they are one-fourth of the families. Altogether, three-fifths of Filipino families are at either end of the economic security spectrum.
About one-fifth are in the bands of the usually-secure or else the usually-poor. Fortunately, those that became secure some time ago are three times as many as those that became poor some time ago.
Another one-fifth of families are in the middle bands of the recently-secure and the recently-poor. These are bands of economic transition. The families that recently rose out of poverty are twice as many as those that recently slipped into it.
The surveys have data that enable study of the transitional bands in relation to many things, including gender, religion, education, employment, demographic dependency, overseas work, optimism for the future, personal safety, and opinions about governance. Let us see what such research discovers.
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