Lockdowns caused by the Covid-19 pandemic bloated the ranks of the unemployed, with official statistics pegging the jobless rate in April 2020 at a record 17.7 percent, equivalent to 7.3 million people out of work.

All regions reported double-digit jobless rates as hundreds of thousands of Filipinos stayed out of the labor force while those who kept their jobs worked fewer hours, the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) said.

“This is a record high in the unemployment rate reflecting the effects of coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) economic shutdown to the Philippine labor market,” the statistics agency said in a statement.

By comparison, the unemployment rate in January stood at 5.3 percent, and in April 2019, 5.1 percent. Unemployment had in fact been on a downtrend since hitting 8 percent in 2006.

The April 2020 figure surpassed the 10.3-percent unemployment rate recorded in the 1998 recession, the labor department said in a separate statement, although the method of estimating joblessness changed in 2005 and the data series are not comparable.

Employment fell across sectors, with industry being the hardest hit. The number of workers in the industrial sector plunged 28.9 percent to 5.7 million, while employment in the services sector dropped 22 percent to 19.3 million.

Agriculture saw the smallest decline in the number of workers, at 3.5 percent to 8.7 million.

By region, the highest unemployment rate was in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao at 29.8 percent, followed by Central Luzon and Cordillera Administrative Region with unemployment rates of 27.3 percent and 25.3 percent, respectively.

Unemployment was the lowest in Northern Mindanao at 11.1 percent, followed my Metro Manila and Caraga at 12.3 percent each, Western Visayas at 13.7 percent, and Eastern Visayas at 14.3 percent.

Other figures in the April jobs report:

    • the labor force participation rate among Filipinos 15 years and older was estimated at 55.6 percent in April 2020, the lowest in the history of Philippine labor market;
    • the employment rate in April 2020 fell to 82.3 percent from 94.7 percent in  January 2020, translating to 33.8 million employed persons in April 2020. In April 2019, the number of employed stood at 41.8 million;
    • the average number of hours worked per week fell to 35 in April 2020, from 41.8 hours per week in April 2019; and
    • the number of employed persons with jobs but not at work was reported at 38.4 percent or 13 million of the total employed.

Palace spokesman Harry Roque said: “We are saddened – albeit unsurprised.”

“This is an obvious effect of the economic shutdown when the entire Luzon area was in an enhanced community quarantine where most businesses were closed and many people were out of work and stayed at home,” he said in a statement.

Roque said the government provided subsidies during the stringent quarantine periods to cushion the economic impact of the pandemic to families, including as the social amelioration program, Covid-19 Adjustment Measures Program, the Abot-Kamay ang Pagtulong for displaced OFWs, Tulong Panghanapbuhay para sa Ating Disadvantaged/Displaced Workers, Financial Subsidy for Rice Farmers and the Small Business Wage Subsidy Program.

Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said that the jobs market should recover soon. He noted that before the Covid-19 pandemic hit the country, the employment situation was “vibrant, expanding at 4.0 percent or 1.6 million net employment generated.”

“The lockdown during the community quarantine from March to May, which is supposed to be the period for job hunting of our fresh graduates, has put the labor force in a standstill as two-thirds of the economy is shut down,” he added.

“As the economy opens gradually, we are hopeful that the labor market will also recover. The Department is committed to preserve and protect employment as we await the approval and implementation of the whole-of-government Recovery Plan in the remainder of the Duterte Administration,” Bello said. PressONE.ph, John Ezekiel J. Hirro