Poor, Borderline, Not Poor
SWS’ first pandemic-time survey report on poverty, based on face-to-face interviews in late November, is: “Fourth Quarter 2020 Social Weather Survey: Only 16% of Filipino families say they are Not Poor; 48% feel Poor, 36% feel Borderline Poor,” www.sws.org.ph, 12/14/20. The three percentages 48, 36, and 16 describe the national distribution of families into Self-Rated Poor (SRP), Borderline Poor (BP), and Not Poor (NP), as of 11/21-25/2020.
The survey question is not standard multiple-choice, with a stated choice of answers. Instead, the respondents (household heads) are shown a card with the words POOR and NOT POOR, separated by a line, printed on it, and then asked where they would place their family on the card (“Saan po ninyo ilalagay ang inyong pamilya sa kard na ito?”). From the very beginning, over three decades ago, there are many survey respondents who point to the line. From the people’s perspective, the borderline of poverty is broad. The three categories of Poor, Borderline Poor, and Not Poor are realistic. SWS excludes the Borderline Poor from the Poor so as not to exaggerate.
The poverty trend. In the last previous SWS survey on poverty, fielded on 12/13-16/2019, the results were: SRP 54, BP 23, and NP 23 (“Fourth Quarter 2019 Social Weather Survey: Self-Rated Poverty rises by 12 points to 5-year-high 54%,” www.sws.org.ph, 1/23/2020). Thus poverty was unusually high in December 2019.
Together with the new survey of November 2020, one can see that the percentage Poor fell from 54 to 48, which is favorable by 6 points, but the percentage Not Poor also fell, from 23 to 16, which is unfavorable by 7 points. This means that the national trend in poverty between December 2019 and November 2020 is inconclusive.
For the four quarterly SWS rounds of 2019, however, the average percentages were: SRP 45, BP 31, and NP 24. Thus, compared to the full 2019 average, the latest (November 2020) situation added 3 points to the Poor and also deducted 8 points from the Not Poor, which is conclusively worse than last year as a whole.
Poverty Thresholds and Poverty Gaps. The SWS surveys are a means of discovering the people’s poverty thresholds. Instead of imposing poverty lines designed by “experts,” they ask the Poor what they need to spend for their own families’ home needs for a month—i.e. excluding costs of commuting and other work-related expenses—in order NOT to feel mahirap. (The surveys also ask the Borderline Poor and the Not Poor what they think a Poor family in their area, as large as their own family, would need in order not to feel poor, and get answers that are a little larger. What appear in the SWS releases are the thresholds of the Self-Rated Poor, so as not to exaggerate.)
Household heads use round numbers when stating Poverty Thresholds. The local cost of living is very relevant. In the National Capital Region, the current (November 2020) median threshold is P15,000 per month; but it has frequently bounced up to P20,000 ever since 2015. The median covers half of the Poor; to cover three-fourths of them, P25,000 per family would be needed. The median Poverty Gap (what the poorer half of the Poor say they lack relative to their threshold) is P7,000 per family.
In the Balance of Luzon, the current Poverty Gap is P5,000, out of a Threshold of P10,000. In the Visayas, the Gap is P7,000, from a Threshold of P15,000. In Mindanao, the Gap is P5,000 from a Threshold of P10,000. These numbers, all medians, show that the poor are deeply submerged.
Poverty transitioning. Poverty is a dynamic phenomenon. Of the 48 percent currently Poor, 8.2 percent are Newly Poor, 5.3 percent are Usually Poor, and 34.7 have been Always Poor. Of the 52 percent currently Non-Poor (meaning Not Poor or else Borderline), 7.3 percent are Newly Non-Poor. 15.1 percent are Usually Non-Poor, and 29.1 percent have been Always Non-Poor. Here “newly” means being in that state for 1-4 years, “usually” means for 5 years or more, and “always” means never been in another state. Data on poverty transitioning can be obtained by asking people where they have been, and for how long; it doesn’t need repetitive surveys of income.
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