Inquirer.net explains the meaning of employment numbers

CHEERS TO Inquirer.net for scrutinizing the recently revealed 0.3 percent dip in the unemployment rate, amid glowing reports that ignored the emerging problem of underemployment and the people’s shift to informal work to provide for their needs. 

The Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) announced on November 8 that the country’s September 2022 unemployment rate has dropped to 5 percent from 5.3 percent the month before. The decrease means there were 2.50 million unemployed Filipinos in September compared to 2.68 million in August. Media picked up the announcement, including the reaction of the President who cited his economic team’s performance as the reason for the supposed decline.  

Kurt Dela Peña’s November 9 article shines a light on “the darker side” of the reported figure by bringing in other indicators and analysis from experts. Dela Peña cited the PSA’s other data: the Labor Force Participation Rate, the number of employed, the number of work hours, and most importantly, the underemployment rate. Dela Peña’s report presented those figures in graphs and showed clearly that the decline in joblessness alone does not mean an improvement in the situation of the average Filipino.

Despite the 0.3 percent decrease in joblessness, the number of underemployed persons increased to 15.4 percent (7.33 million) last September from 14.7 percent (7.03 million) last August. The PSA defines someone as underemployed when they “desire additional work hours at their current job, an additional job, or a new job with longer work hours.” 

Economist Sonny Africa, the Executive Director of think tank Ibon Foundation explained that the drop in unemployment but the rise in underemployment means that “millions of discouraged jobless Filipinos are not being counted and millions in pseudo-work are called ‘employed’.” Africa noted that the increase in “supposed employment” has been mostly in part-time work.

In September 2022, Ibon Foundation found that an estimated four out of ten employed Filipinos (around 20.2 million) are in “outright informal work” meaning self-employment, small family farms or business, domestic help, and working without pay in a family-operated farm or business. The large number means that Filipino workers “are turning to whatever work they can find to support themselves and their families.” Because of this, Ibon Foundation called on the government to acknowledge the real labor situation and to “not overly hype” the lower unemployment rate, which only helps “disguise huge numbers of Filipinos struggling to find decent work.” 

The data-driven piece is a reminder that statistics like the unemployment rate should be reported with more nuance, especially when these can be taken out of context so easily. It also shows that media should increase their efforts to leverage data journalism in reports in order to check, not simply record, the administration’s interpretation of its numbers to peddle a narrative in its favor.