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Jobless rate hits record low in 2023


By Andrea C. Abestano, Researcher

THE JOBLESS RATE dropped to a record low of 4.3% last year as more Filipinos became employed, the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) reported on Wednesday.

Preliminary results from the PSA’s Labor Force Survey showed the average unemployment rate last year was lower than 5.4% logged in 2022.

This was the lowest jobless rate in almost two decades since the PSA revised the definition of unemployed in April 2005 to refer to Filipinos aged 15 years and older without a job and are available for work and actively seeking one.

This translated to 2.19 million jobless Filipinos last year, lower than 2.67 million in 2022.

“We welcome the news of a record-low unemployment rate, signifying the economy’s sustained momentum and resiliency of our labor market,” National Economic and Development Authority Secretary Arsenio M. Balisacan said in a statement.

“We will continue ramping up social and physical infrastructure investments and dramatically improve human capital to strengthen our people’s employment prospects,” he added.

In December alone, the unemployment rate fell to 3.1% from 3.6% in November and from 4.3% in the same month in 2022. This was also a record low.

That month, the ranks of unemployed Filipinos dropped to 1.6 million, more than half a million less than the 2.22 million in December 2022. This was also lower than 1.83 million in November 2023.

Meanwhile, the employment rate in December also hit a record high of 96.9%, above the 96.4% in November and 95.7% in December 2022.

In absolute terms, the country’s employed Filipinos in December reached 50.52 million, up by 889,000 from the previous month. On an annual basis, the country added 1.52 million jobs from 49 million in December 2022.

PSA Undersecretary and National Statistician Claire Dennis S. Mapa said in a briefing that the record-low unemployment in December came amid the rise in available work, especially during the holiday season.

“Consumption is higher [during the holiday season] and thus we create additional jobs,” he said in mixed English and Filipino.

Job quality improved last year as the underemployment rate — or the proportion of employed Filipinos but still looking for more work or longer working hours to the total employed population — fell to an all-time low of 12.3% from 14.2% in 2022.

This translated to 5.95 million underemployed Filipinos last year, down from 6.68 million in 2022.

In December alone, the underemployment rate hit 11.9%. It slightly edged up from 11.7% in November but was lower than 12.6% in December 2022.

The number of underemployed Filipinos in December reached 6.01 million. This was higher than 5.79 million in November and 6.2 million in December 2022.

The country’s labor force in December was recorded at 52.13 million, 658,000 more than in November and 907,000 higher than in December 2022.

The labor force participation rate (LFPR) that month reached 66.6%, an improvement from 65.9% in November and 66.4% in December 2022.

This brought the average workforce size to 50.38 million last year, which translated to a record-high LFPR of 64.9%.

In December, Filipinos worked for 40.6 hours a week on average, longer than 40.2 hours in November and 40.3 hours in December 2022.

Services remained the top employer in December, cornering 57.3% of the total. Agriculture followed with 24.4%, while industry had an 18.3% share.

Security Bank Corp. Chief Economist Robert Dan J. Roces said the record-low unemployment rate came amid steady job generation in the agriculture sector as well as seasonal factors.

“Seasonal hiring in December, improved business climate, and government initiatives, and the absence of typhoons (which sustained employment in agriculture) may also have played a role,” he said in a Viber message. “Job quality also improved, with lower underemployment and potential wage increases.”

For December, the agriculture sector posted an 89.4% employment rate, higher than the 87.9% in November and 87.5% in December last year.

“Historically, agriculture sheds jobs in late [fourth quarter], due to typhoons,” Mr. Roces said.

On a year-on-year basis, the construction sector recorded the biggest increase in employment in December after adding 777,000 to 5.08 million. It was followed by agriculture and forestry (up 715,000) and accommodation and food service (up 498,000).

Meanwhile, annual job losses in December were seen in wholesale and retail trade (down 660,000), administrative and support service (down 250,000), and fishing and aquaculture (down 159,000).

Trade Union Congress of the Philippines Vice-President Luis C. Corral said the government needs to generate more quality jobs to ensure that the employment momentum seen last year continues.

“While we welcome that employment remains high, we fear that the decrease in unemployment is potentially driven by holiday seasonal jobs,” Mr. Corral said in a Viber message.

For his part, Security Bank’s Mr. Roces said a sustained drop in joblessness requires continued economic growth, effective skills development, and addressing underemployment though quality job creation.

“The government should prioritize infrastructure development, upskilling the workforce, promoting business formalization, and tackling underemployment to ensure the labor market’s continued progress,” Mr. Roces said.

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