Thursday, March 16, 2006

Unemployment up as industry jobs shrink

A shrinking industrial sector pushed up the Philippines’ unemployment rate in January from a year ago, National Statistics Office data showed Wednesday.

About 8.1 percent of the country’s labor force found no jobs, according to the latest Labor Force Survey.

The jobless rate stood at 7.4 percent last October, and at 7.3 percent in January last year.

The latest jobless rate puts the number of unemployed Filipinos at 2.8 million.

Agricultural employment rose by 475,000 jobs, or 4.2 percent, from a year earlier to 11.8 million.

But the increase in the number of jobs created by the agriculture sector was owing to the "increase in unpaid family workers," the NSO said.

Services jobs also increased 2.4 percent to 15.67 million.

A total of 95,000 jobs, however, were lost in the industrial sector—including 73,000 in construction—reducing employment there to 4.88 million.

The ratio of people who worked for less than 40 hours a week, officially defined as the underemployed segment, rose to 21.3 percent compared to a year earlier.

Across regions, Cagayan Valley recorded the highest employment rate at 96.8 percent while the National Capital Region was the laggard, with the jobless rate at 85 percent.

The NSO also reported that among the jobless Filipinos, about 48.4 percent were aged 15 to 24, with the rest aged 25 years and above.

Among those looking for more hours of work, the bulk formed part of the farm-sector work force, followed by those in the services sector.

The total labor force in January was estimated at 35.2 million, for a labor force participation rate of 63.8 percent.

In a telephone interview, Dennis Arroyo, director for national planning and policy of the National Economic and Development Authority, said the increase in the number of farm-sector jobs could be attributed to the expected improvement in the weather system of the country, noting that agricultural lands were hit by a prolonged dry spell last year.

But Arroyo admitted that the government should be more alarmed with the sharp increase in the underemployment rate.

To address the country’s unemployment and underemployment woes, the government should deliver on its promise to spend on infrastructure and support the development of the agriculture sector, he said.

"I hope Congress will immediately enact the 2006 budget because the delay in its passage is causing infrastructure projects to be postponed," he said, adding that infrastructure projects are labor-intensive.

He also cited the "clustering" program promoted by the Department of Agriculture that seeks to diversify agricultural output and encourage farmers to plant other crops besides palay.

Benjamin Diokno, a former budget secretary and an economist at the University of the Philippines, said the government "has nothing to be happy about" despite a decrease in the number of jobless Filipinos.

He said his way of looking at the LFS was to add the percentage of the unemployed and the underemployed and under this system, the percentage of unsatisfied Filipinos in their employment situation would be bigger at 29.4 percent this year compared to last year’s 27.4 percent.

"What was clear was that there was a deterioration in the unemployment situation in the country," he said, adding the government should look for ways to attract more investments in the country.

Another economist, Emilio Antonio of the University of Asia and the Pacific, said the survey results were "consistent" with the general trend of a slight improvement in the performance of the economy.

AFP and Cheryl M. Arcibal

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