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Measuring the 2020 crash

The new report (5/7/20) of the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) that Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2020Q1 was 0.2 percent less than in 2019Q1 gives only an inkling of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the well-being of the Filipino people. The concept of a people’s well-being has many dimensions. A very useful list of the dimensions is that of the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are intended for achievement by the year 2030. At least five of them are particularly relevant: 1. No poverty, 2. Zero hunger, 3. Good health and well-being, 8. Decent work and economic growth, and 10. Reduced inequalities.

The economic production crash (SDG8). Let us start here, on account of the new PSA report. It is very, very seldom that GDP falls. It needs to rise by 1.2 percent per year, just to keep up with population growth. Zero growth is already bad; a 1 percent fall is a crash. The government shares responsibility for the crash since it ordered a lockdown.

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GDP growth pertains to only a part of SDG8, which states in full: “to promote sustained inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.” Thus, Labor Force Survey figures for 2020 on unemployment, underemployment, and wages are needed in order to monitor the entirety of SDG8.

The economic distribution crash (SDG10). An economy is measured not only by the size of its production but also by the fairness of sharing it, hence SDG10: “reduce inequality within and among countries.” From late 2013 up to the end of 2019, more Filipinos were getting better off than getting worse off, as shown by both the Social Weather Surveys and the Bangko Sentral’s Consumer Confidence Surveys. In December 2019, the SWS score of Gainers minus Losers was a very high net +18 percentage points.

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But in 2020, the economic distribution crashed. A preliminary report of the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) Technical Working Group for Anticipatory and Forward Planning, titled “We recover as one,” has April 2020 data from a Neda survey pointing to a net gainers score of -50 or worse among private sector workers, and -10 or worse among government workers. Much of this is the government’s own doing, by ordering the closure of most private companies and stoppage of public transportation (see my columns “Restore jeepneys and tricycles,” 3/21/20, and “Allow people the freedom to earn a living,” 4/18/20).

The economic deprivation crash (SDG1, SDG2). The Neda survey states that more than 40 percent of Filipinos now lack sufficient income to meet their basic needs. The IATF report has a table on the regional number of “poor/near poor/informal sector households” to be given cash assistance for two months by the government. It adds up to 17.96 million households—a staggering four-fifths of all households in the entire country—and a budget of P106.9 billion.

Incidentally, the latest official poverty incidence is for 2018: 12.1 percent of households. The latest from SWS is for December 2019: Self-Rated Poverty at 54 percent, and Hunger at 8.8 percent, of households (“Fourth Quarter 2019 Social Weather Survey: Self-Rated Poverty rises by 12 points to 5-year high 54%,” and “Quarterly Hunger decreases to 8.8%,” www.sws.org.ph, 1/23/20 and 1/24/20).

How is health (SDG3)? It seems to me that the Philippines is not doing poorly, relative to neighboring countries—calling into question the need for the severity of the lockdown and the suffering it has caused.

Here are the number of cases and number of deaths, per million of the population, by country, as of 5/8/20, arranged by number of cases: Singapore 3,579 cases, 3 deaths; South Korea 211 cases, 5 deaths; Malaysia 200 cases, 3 deaths; Japan 122 cases, 5 deaths; Philippines 94 cases, 6 deaths; Indonesia 47 cases, 3 deaths; Thailand 43 cases, 0.8 deaths (www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/; Vietnam omitted because deaths not reported). (These are all medical cases of individual persons; there are no estimates of infection rates of the general population.)

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TAGS: economic production crash, Gross Domestic Product, Philippine Statistics Authority
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