Millions are suffering this Christmas | Inquirer Opinion
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Millions are suffering this Christmas

Reader, how was your Christmas celebration? How did COVID-19 make it different from your previous Christmases?

I am almost ashamed to say that for me and mine, there wasn’t that much difference. Simbang Gabi, for example, I have attended for over 40 years. With the age restrictions on church attendance, I couldn’t physically be there, but thank heavens for TV. Fr. Tito Caluag celebrated Simbang Gabi over the Kapamilya Channel, so I still participated.

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One thing about TV time, though. The good Father said that Mass would be at 4:30 a.m. every day. So I turned on the TV at 4:30 a.m., and found out I was too late. Then I remembered that it would be celebrated again at 5 a.m. on a different channel (not live), which I caught. No real problem.

Before this new normal, after the Simbang Gabi, my Walking Group would have breakfast together at one or the other’s house. Every day for nine days. The hostesses would vary, except for the last day of the novena, when Dr. Meding Suntay would be our hostess. Hers was special—because she would personally wash all the dishes and crystals we would be eating and drinking out of. Laliques and Waterfords and old English dinnerware, etc. She didn’t trust the domestic help to do the washing. And the food was pretty good, too.

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This Christmas, no more breakfasts. After the Mass, either I go back to bed or prepare to take a 4-5 mile walk, while praying the rosary. The old way guaranteed a 5-7 pound weight gain, and great fellowship. The new normal has allowed me to keep my weight, and be a little more healthy. There are pluses and minuses.

No major change with respect to Christmas day itself (I am writing this on Dec. 22), except no more invited guests for the turkey dinner. But for my birthday last July, my children gave me a hugger/cuddle curtain—a life-size thingamajig where you are on one side of a plastic curtain, with long gloves that you can put your hands through, and a child or grandchild would be on the other side, with gloves that they can put their hands through, and you can hug each other. It was a great gift, and allows us to hug, but not kiss. No major problem.

So that’s my story. But there are millions of Filipinos who have been greatly inconvenienced, or are suffering this Christmas, and that’s why I say I am almost ashamed that I didn’t really suffer, nor was I really inconvenienced.

And when I say millions, that is not an exaggeration. Let’s look at the latest (October) round of employment statistics (the Philippine Statistics Authority Labor Force and Employment Surveys take place in January, April, July, and October every year). Last year (October 2019), the Labor Force Participation Rate, i.e., the number of people who were either employed or unemployed as a percentage of persons of working age, was 61.4 percent, which translated to 44.6 million Filipinos. This year, the LFPR was only 58.1 percent, or 43.6 million Filipinos. That means, Reader, that 1 million Filipinos in October this year did not even get to the starting post, compared to last year. They did not even bother to work or look for work. That LFPR is the lowest we have had for any October survey, and the second-lowest this year.

Then, among those who did participate in the Labor Force, the number of persons employed in October 2019 was 42.5 million. This year, that number went down to 39.8 million. That is a decrease of 2.7 million in the number of persons employed. That means a 3.7 million (2.7 + 1 million not even at the starting post) decrease in the number of Filipinos working this year. And further translates into at least 1.8 million families who are not able to celebrate Christmas as they used to, because there are, on the average, about two workers per family.

Plus, they worked an average of 1.2 hours less per week than they did one year ago. Which translates into less income, one way or another.

And thus far we have been talking about the quantity of work. What about the quality of work, for those fortunate enough to be employed? Here’s the story, as gleaned from the PSA: The underemployment rate (those working but looking for more work) is higher this year, at 14.4 percent, than last year’s 12.8 percent. Plus, the number of employed with a job, but not at work this year, is 54,000 more than those last year.

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Here’s to the hope that they have a much better time next year. Wishing all a Merry Christmas somehow gets stuck in my throat.

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TAGS: Celebration, Christmas, COVID-19, economy, employment, joblessness, pandemic, Underemployment
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