The worsening of hunger
The reports on economic deprivation from the SWS September 2018 survey are all unfavorable. First was the discovery that individual Filipinos had just shifted to getting mostly worse off, after 14 successive quarters of getting mostly better off (“Inclusive growth has ended,” 10/6/18).
Second was the finding of a 10-point increase in families rating themselves as poor, from 42 percent in March to 52 percent in September (“Poverty bounces back up,” 10/13/18).
Third was last week’s report, “Third Quarter 2018 Social Weather Survey: Hunger rises to 13.3%,” www.sws.org.ph, 10/12/2018. The hunger rate is the proportion of families that involuntarily went hungry at least once in the past three months.
The state of hunger. This new percentage of 13.3 points consists of 10.6 that experienced hunger only once or a few times (Moderate Hunger), plus 2.8 hungry often or always (Severe Hunger). These are national percentages, rounded. One point means 233,000 families.
In June, the total hunger rate was 9.4 points, of which 8.1 was Moderate and 1.3 was Severe. The total increase from June to September was 3.9 points, of which 2.5 was added Moderate and 1.5 was added Severe.
The worst hunger is in Mindanao (18.3 points), followed by the National Capital Region (17.3), Balance Luzon (12.7). and Visayas (6.0). Compared to September, hunger rose to serious levels in the first three areas, but fell in the fourth.
The relation of hunger to poverty is not fixed. Poor and nonpoor families both experience hunger, but poor ones experience it more, at any given point in time. In September, hunger afflicted 18.5 percent of the poor, compared to 7.6 percent of the nonpoor. Severe Hunger, in particular, was endured by 3.9 percent of the poor, compared to 1.5 percent of the nonpoor.
In June, on the other hand, hunger afflicted 12.6 percent of the poor, and 6.5 percent of the nonpoor. Families in Severe Hunger were 1.9 percent of the poor, compared to 0.7 percent of the nonpoor.
This shows that hunger rose, from June to September, not only because poverty rose, but also because hunger rose among the poor, and rose among the nonpoor, too. The rate of hunger is not fixed in time for any social group.
Hunger is so widespread that even households headed by college graduates suffer from it. In the SWS September survey, 2.7 percent of such households experienced hunger. Fortunately, all such cases were of moderate hunger, and none was severe.
But the hunger percentage was 12.0 among families of high school graduates who did not finish college, 13.8 among those of elementary graduates who did not finish high school, and 21.1 among those who did not finish elementary. The severe hunger percentages among the above groups were 2.7, 3.0, and 4.0 respectively.
The main determinant of changes in hunger and poverty over time is the rate of inflation, not the growth in Gross National Product. Until inflation abates, mere maintenance of its current level is bound to keep the people’s economic welfare dismal.
Aside from the SWS quarterly indicators, one should watch the official Consumer Price Index for the Bottom 30% Households, which in June 2018 inflated by 6.5 percent, versus the 5.2 percent “headline inflation” rate at that time.
The price of rice has much more weight than the price of oil products in Bottom 30 inflation. The National Food Authority’s insistence on controlling rice importation is an attitude politically harmful to the administration, and favorable to the opposition (see “Abolish the NFA!”, 9/1/2018).
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