Catastrophic times | Inquirer Opinion
Social Climate

Catastrophic times

/ 04:20 AM August 15, 2020

As the times change, so must the language. I call attention to the subtitle, “SWS adds ‘Extremely Low’ and ‘Catastrophic’ grades for Gainers minus Losers,” in last Thursday’s media release by Social Weather Stations (SWS July 3-6, 2020 Mobile Phone Survey—Report No. 15: “79% of adult Filipinos got worse off in the past 12 months,”, 8/13/20).

With only 8 percent having gotten better off, the July 2020 net score of Gainers minus Losers is 8 – 79 = -72 (correctly rounded), which is a paltry change from the all-time low -78 of last May (see “Very historic, very sad,” Opinion, 6/20/20).

Both the May and the July numbers are so terrible that our old term of Extremely Low, for our old bottom category of -40 or worse, is woefully inadequate. Thus SWS has decided to designate the fixed range of -40 to -49 as Extremely Low, and create a new term, Catastrophic, for a new open-ended category of -50 or worse.

Between the uppermost and lowermost categories, SWS has been using fixed ranges of 10 points each, in keeping with their frequency of occurrence in the total of 136 surveys that have been archived. The survey series started in 1983, and became quarterly in 1992.


Thus the revised terminology is now: Excellent = +20 or better (2 surveys), Very high = +10 to +19 (11 surveys), High = +1 to +9 (8 surveys), Fair = -9 to zero (22 surveys), Mediocre = -19 to -10 (30 surveys), Low = -29 to -20 (32 surveys), Very low = -39 to -30 (23 surveys), Extremely low = -49 to -40 (5 surveys), and Catastrophic = -50 or worse (3 surveys).

This recognizes that Excellent and Catastrophic happen rarely. Positive scores are so few—in only 21 out of 136 surveys did Gainers exceed Losers—that even single digit positives can already be regarded as High. Single digit negatives are called Fair, since we are thankful for them.

Gainers and Losers are counts of people, not of production. The main historical lesson of the past 37 years of these surveys is that the steady growth in the Gross Domestic Product did NOT better the well-being of most Filipinos. In 93 of the 136 surveys, Losers exceeded Gainers by at least double digits.

Yet the most recent half-decade, from 2015 to 2019, was actually a very good economic period for the people, with Gainers consistently dominant over Losers. However, with the pandemic of 2020, plus the government’s many draconian measures that unnecessarily prevent so many people from pursuing their livelihoods, there has been a sudden retrogression, with no end in sight.


The catastrophe is everywhere. The net gainers scores are catastrophic in all parts of the country: -75 in the Visayas, -74 in the Balance of Luzon, -71 in the National Capital Region, and -65 in Mindanao.

The sharing of the catastrophe has been affected by hunger. The proportion of hungry families climbed twice this year, initially from a relatively low 8.8 percent in December 2019 to 16.7 percent in May 2020, and subsequently to 20.9 percent in July 2020. Whereas COVID-19 victims are in the tens of thousands, the hungry are in the millions (“COVID-19 versus hunger: The cruel choice,” Opinion, 7/25/30).


Among those whose families did not experience hunger in the past three months, Losers are now 78 percent, and the July 2020 net gainers score is -70. But for those in moderate hunger (only once or a few times), Losers are 85 percent, and the net gainers score is -75. It is even worse for those in severe hunger (often or always), with Losers at 89 percent, and the net gainers score at -85.

In order to verify the catastrophe, the government should produce regular statistics on the number of people lacking food to eat, rather than on the peso value of food being produced.


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TAGS: Coronavirus, COVID-19, crisis, health, hunger, livelihood, lockdown, pandemic, Poverty, survey, SWS, virus

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