Social Climate

The full poverty picture

/ 05:05 AM October 26, 2019

The very title of this week’s SWS poverty report—“Third Quarter 2019 Social Weather Survey: Self-Rated Poverty recovers to 42%” (www.sws.org.ph, 10/21/19)—indicates that it involves at least three quarters of data. Households that considered themselves poor in September 2019 were 3 points better than the 45 percent surveyed in June, but still short of the record 38 percent in March.

The March record of 38 percent had been an awesome 12-point gain from the 50 percent of December 2018. The 45-percent poverty in June meant a loss of 7 of the 12 points. The 42-percent poverty in September recovered only 3 of the lost 7 points.


The running-average household poverty for the first three quarters of 2019 is also 42 percent. It would be an improvement from the quarterly averages of 48 percent in 2018 and 46 percent in 2017, IF it continues for the rest of the year. That’s a big IF, since poverty keeps bouncing, upwards and downwards, depending mainly on the volatility of the cost of living for the poor (see “The poverty roller coaster,” Opinion, 7/27/19).

The full poverty picture is given by the long series of national surveys of Self-Rated Poverty (SRP), done in 1983, 1985, 11 times in 1986-91, and 111 times since 1992. The Philippines is the only country in the world with quarterly surveys of poverty, regardless of how poverty is measured.


For three and a half decades, SRP has been trending downward, along a very rocky road. It peaked at 74 percent in 1985, following two years of hyperinflation. It hit 70+ percent again four times during 1990-94, but was generally in the 60s. Its annual average was in the mid-50s to low 60s in 1995-2003, in the low 50s in 2004-08, and in the high 40s to low 50s in 2009-15.

The most recent full-year averages of SRP were 44 percent in 2016, 46 percent in 2017, and 48 percent in 2018. Perhaps the worsening has halted in 2019.

The median threshold of poor households themselves is presently P10,000 per month for home expenses only, i.e., excluding transportation and other costs to the household of earning a living. The median poverty gap is P5,000, i.e., a very substantial one-half of what poor households say they need for the home. Note that a median is the boundary of the need of, not all the poor households, but only the poorer half of them.

When it comes to food-poverty (rating one’s food as mahirap), the median monthly food threshold is P5,000, and the median food-poverty gap is a substantial P3,000. Note that the minimum people’s need for a food budget is only one-half of their minimum need for a total home budget, and not 70 percent of it as assumed in the official poverty line.

SRP in September 2019 is 25 percent in the National Capital Region, 34 percent in the Balance of Luzon, 53 percent in Mindanao, and 59 percent in the Visayas. The Visayas has been the poorest of the four major survey areas for some time now.

The Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) is notably poorer than the rest of Mindanao. BARMM deserves to have its own regular monitoring of well-being; SWS will make a separate report on it soon.

The strongest correlate of household poverty is the educational level of the household head. Current SRP is 24 percent among households headed by college graduates, 29 percent among those headed by senior HS (high school) graduates, 35 percent among those headed by junior HS graduates, 47 percent among those headed by HS dropouts, and 62 percent among those headed by elementary dropouts.


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TAGS: Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, self-rated poverty, SWS poverty report
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