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Who lost their jobs?

/ 04:06 AM September 15, 2020

After the deep decline in jobs last April that brought our unemployment rate to a record 17.7 percent and the number of jobless workers to 7.3 million, the July jobs data gave a bit of a relief, but there’s hardly reason to celebrate just yet. It appears that much of the jobs lost with the immobilization of the economy through the COVID-19 lockdowns had been regained in July, after quarantines were relaxed in June. The unemployment rate had eased to 10 percent, and the number of unemployed workers was down to 4.6 million, but still about twice the number at the start of the year. I invested some effort doing some calculations from the Labor Force Survey data, to better see the profile of jobs lost between January and April, then partly regained between April and July.

Which sectors and industries were most badly hit by job declines, and which were affected the least? Services bore the biggest brunt of job losses, having lost about 5.7 million jobs between January and April. Job losses were greatest in wholesale and retail trade in April, accounting for 2.2 million of the jobs lost. With shopping malls closed and manufacturing immobilized under the lockdown, trade workers came out the biggest casualty. But this type of employment had more than recovered by July, with more than 2.4 million jobs added since April. This suggests that displaced workers from other industries may have turned to trading (buying and selling) as an alternative livelihood; in July, we had 219,000 more workers in this category than in January.

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Workers in transport and storage services were the second biggest casualty, with around 823,000 lost jobs from January to April, mainly drivers of public utility vehicles spanning buses, jeepneys, tricycles, habal-habals, and pedicabs. Much less than half (330,000) of that had been regained by July, with public transport still restricted by the government. Thus, there were close to half a million less transport and storage jobs in July than in January.

Restaurant and hotel workers were the third largest casualties, losing 789,000 jobs between January and April. Here, only 57,000 jobs were restored as of July, and there were 731,000 less jobs in July compared to January. Sadly, large numbers of these jobs may be gone forever, in what could be the economy’s hardest hit sector in the longer term.

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The industry sector, dominated by manufacturing in terms of value of output, lost 2.3 million jobs between January and April. However, construction saw the most jobs lost (1.2 million), while manufacturing lost 945,000 jobs. But construction jobs had more than recovered by July, by which time there were already 16,000 more construction jobs than in January. Manufacturing also largely recovered, having regained 668,000 jobs in July, although still 277,000 jobs short of the January level. Meanwhile, job losses in mining and quarrying and utilities ran only to the tens of thousands, and in the case of mining and quarrying, it had more than recovered in July, with 58,000 more workers than at the start of the year.

Agriculture actually lost close to a million jobs as of April, despite its positive performance in the second quarter. However, farm jobs bounced back toward July by more than double the earlier job losses, and the sector had 1.2 million more workers than when the year started. This could signal that agriculture has been turning an even better positive performance in the third quarter — especially if coconut and high-value crops like coffee, cacao, cassava have turned around from their declines in the second quarter. It was mainly rice, corn, and sugarcane that propelled the sector into positive 1.6 percent growth, but much of the rest had actually declined—which could be the reason farm jobs actually declined from January to April. But the dramatic increase by over 2 million jobs between April and July is a good sign that agriculture may have seen broader growth in more recent months.

Hopefully, better understanding of which industries our workers have been hardest hit could in turn help in directing remedial measures that our economic managers can take to best alleviate the pain in the economy.

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