Business World, 15 April 2014


The severity of joblessness in the country should be a grim reminder for policy makers that all’s not well in the economy. One might find comfort that the headline economic numbers are sound — GDP growth is robust, inflation rate is tame, and the peso is stable. Yet, one gets the uneasy feeling that things are not benefiting a great number of Filipinos, that many are left behind in the growth process, and that the situation could easily turn for the worse in the event of a major setback, such as, for example, a damaging earthquake, a killer storm, another Ondoy-like catastrophe, a major civil disturbance in the South, and so on.

For a calamity-prone country like the Philippines, any of the above-mentioned major disasters is highly probable.

A quarter of Filipinos are poor and there appears to be no progress in the government’s war against poverty. This sad state of affairs has been with us since 2003. And at the rate we’re reducing poverty incidence, there is no way we’ll meet our Millennium Development Goal (MDG) commitment to halve poverty by 2015.

One of the reasons why we have failed, and continue to fail, to reduce poverty is the economy’s inability to create a lot of decent jobs for its large and fast growing work force.

The initial conditions are working against us. On top of the 3 million unemployed and the 10-plus million underemployed, some 1.2 million new workers join the labor force every year. The underemployed are those who are employed but want to get paid (yes, Angelina, a huge chunk of those employed don’t get paid), want longer hours, or just are unhappy with their present jobs.

But what explains the rapid rise in the work force? Blame it to the Filipinos’ propensity to multiply. Some 2 million Filipinos are born every year. The incremental work force is higher than the population of many small republics.


The incidence of joblessness is highest among the youth. Youth unemployment is estimated at close to 78.1%. In the latest January jobs survey, close to eight of 10 unemployed are either aged 15-24 years (48.2%) or aged 25-34 (29.9%).

High youth unemployment could be a curse. Not being able to find decent jobs after graduating could be frustrating for the idealistic high school or college graduates who are eager to work but are unable to find a job.

Failure to find a suitable job at an early age, after several quarters of job search, could have a negative lasting impact on one’s lifetime income.


Among the 2,960,000 million unemployed, close to a million are college-trained (college undergraduates and graduates). From 832,800 college-trained workers who were unemployed in January 2013, the number rose to 982,739 in January 2014, or an increase of 149,939 workers.

After spending a lot of time, money and effort to get a college education, many job-seeking, college-educated workers can’t find a job. Many of these did not receive government help. They persevered on their own blood, sweat and tears.

Under the Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) program, the government has spent tons of money in the past, is spending P62.6 billion this year, and will continue to spend money to keep children from poor families longer at school. By contrast, the government has no programs for those who have helped themselves get college education, studied diligently without government incentives, and raised their own money to finance their tertiary education.

Both the young, college-trained unemployed workers and the children of poor families deserve government attention. Helping the latter but not the former does not make economic sense.