The long road back | Inquirer Opinion
Social Climate

The long road back

After several items on the pandemic, SWS resumed its regular economic reporting this week, on the topic of jobs (“First Quarter 2021 Social Weather Survey: Joblessness is down 1.5 points from November 2020, but still 8.3 points above pre-pandemic December 2019,”, 6/17/21).

SWS’ last pre-pandemic national joblessness rate, surveyed in December 2019, was a relatively low 17.5 percent of the adult labor force. For the full year 2019, the average percentage jobless was 19.9—down from 22.3 in 2016, three years earlier.


In SWS’ first pandemic-time survey, done only in July 2020 on account of the restrictions on mobility, national joblessness was a catastrophic 45.5 percent, or almost half, of the labor force. July 2020 was the very worst point, and 2020 was the very worst year—average jobless 37.4 percent, versus the 2019 average 19.8 percent—in 27 years of SWS joblessness surveys.

Later in 2020, the national jobless rate steadily dropped, to 39.5 percent in September, 27.3 percent in November, and, most recently, to 25.8 percent in May 2021, which is on the high side in the survey history. The likes of the new May 2021 rate have not been seen since 2013 and 2014, when the jobless averaged about 25 percent.


The SWS term ‘jobless’ is literally what it says. An SWS survey respondent is simply asked if he/she has a job or not—may trabaho o wala—at the time of the interview. The word trabaho is undefined; it is whatever the respondent thinks it is. Those with no job are then asked if they are looking for one, since those not interested in a job (retired, in school, in home care, etc.) are not part of the labor force, which is the standard denominator of the jobless rate.

In official statistics, on the other hand, a person is already “employed” if he/she has done even a single hour of paid work in the week prior to being interviewed. Thus the officially “unemployed” are the utterly idle—plus looking for work, of course.

Metro Manila has the most joblessness, as usual. Looking across the four SWS study areas, the May 2021 jobless rates are 31 percent in the National Capital Region (NCR), 24 percent in Balance Luzon, 29 percent in the Visayas, and 23 percent in Mindanao. The highest jobless rate is almost always in NCR.

The May 2021 rates in each area are all below their terrible average 2020 rates (NCR 41, Balance Luzon 37, Visayas 39, Mindanao 34). Yet they are only partial recoveries to their pre-pandemic 2019 averages (NCR 21, Balance Luzon 21, Visayas 16, Mindanao 19). All areas have a long way to go.

Extreme youth is still a handicap. In pre-pandemic year 2019, the national average jobless rates by age group were: 18-24, 43 percent; 25-34, 37 percent, 35-44, 16 percent; and 45+, 13 percent. In 2020, the averages were: 18-24, 59 percent; 25-34, 41 percent; 35-44, 33 percent; and 45+, 32 percent. Most recently, in May 2021, the rates were: 18-24, 56 percent; 25-34, 25 percent; 35-44, 26 percent; and 45+, 18 percent; thus only the 35-44 group has recovered.

Is discrimination against women subsiding? Through the years, it’s been common for joblessness of women to be as much as double that of men. In 2019, the average jobless rate was 30 percent for women, versus only 12 percent for men. Then, in pandemic year 2020, average joblessness became 47 percent for women versus 29 percent for men.

Most recently, in May 2021, joblessness was 29 percent for women, only slightly higher than the 24 percent for men. Let us hope this very recent move toward job parity of the sexes continues.


Even slight anxiety about COVID-19 infection matters. A tabulation of the survey respondents according to worry about themselves/their families being infected by COVID-19 shows that the jobless are only 12 percent of those not at all worried about infection. This is noticeably below the joblessness of those very much worried (28 percent), somewhat worried (23 percent), and a little worried (27 percent) about it, which, in turn, are indistinguishable from each other. The tabulation is not in the June 17 release; it can become a supplement.

I wonder if those not worried about infection have occupations more amenable to work-from-home, or that don’t require use of public transport, or in some ways are relatively robust against infection. Other parts of the survey may have some clues.


Contact: [email protected]

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TAGS: coronavirus pandemic, joblessness, women
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