Jobs and the private sector

Dindo Manhit, President, Stratbase ADR Institute

If you really want to get to know an economy, one of the first numbers you look at is jobs. Do people have a regular source of income, which they can use to buy their basic needs? How many people are out of a job and could be contributing more to the economy if only they had one?

More than that, jobs convey a value that goes beyond numerals. Are people actively engaged in economic activity, which enables them to support their families without relying on anyone? Do they have some measure of security about their future? Jobs are more than a source of income; they are a source of dignity.

Small wonder that the creation of jobs ranks the highest among Filipinos’ concerns.

In a Stratbase-commissioned survey held between Sept. 17 and 21 this year, Pulse Asia asked respondents nationwide to give three issues that the private sector can address to boost the Philippine economy. Sixty-nine percent of respondents identified job creation — the most frequently cited issue.

The dominance of job creation as an area of cooperation with the private sector is consistent across all regions in the Philippines, and was cited the most by respondents from the National Capital Region (77%) and those from socioeconomic class D (71%).

A comparison with figures from December 2021, the last time Pulse Asia asked the same questions to its respondents, revealed a significant increase in the percentage of those who believed jobs are the primary issue the private sector can help address.

Nine months ago, some 58% of respondents nationwide believed the same, representing a jump of 11 percentage points. This is a strong message that more Filipinos give high value on how the private sector is the primary employer of the workforce population.

The marked increase from December 2021 to September 2022 is most pronounced in the National Capital Region (NCR), which saw jumps of 16 and 18 percentage points, respectively. Respondents from socioeconomic class D also had the same sentiment; responses from this group showed a 14-percentage point increase from 57% in December to 71% nine months later.

This is the same Pulse Asia survey, which revealed that 86% of Filipinos nationwide agree that the private sector plays a crucial role in accelerating economic growth. In the NCR and Balance Luzon, more respondents — 90% and 88%, respectively — believe the same. Ninety-four percent of respondents from the ABC socio-economic group had the same sentiment.

The Pulse Asia survey, conducted via face-to-face interviews among 1,200 respondents from the NCR, Balance Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao has a margin of error of plus/minus 2.8% at the 95% confidence level.

The survey respondents’ emphasis on job creation is not misplaced. Official government figures show us that employment and unemployment remain a crucial concern for the country, especially as we try to recover from the crippling effects of the pandemic-induced lockdowns.

According to the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), unemployment in August 2022 hit 5.3%, up from 5.2% in July. The difference translates to 79,000 more Filipinos out of a job.

Meanwhile, underemployment also increased in August 2022 from the previous month, with the number of workers looking for more jobs or more working hours increasing to 14.7% (7.03 million) from 13.8% (6.54 million) in July 2022.

The PSA said in July that the services sector remained the top employment hub with 58.8% of the total number of employed persons. The agriculture and industry sectors employed 23.5% and 17.7%, respectively.

Through all these, there are several sectors that saw an increase in employment. Year on year, or from July 2021 to July 2022, the following sub-sectors saw the largest increase in the number of employed persons: wholesale and retail trade, repair of motor vehicles and motorcycles (2.14 million); agriculture and forestry (1.74 million); accommodation and food service activities (498,000); other service activities (354,000); and public administration and defense, compulsory social security (206,000).

Within this year, between the first quarter and the second quarter, the largest increases in the number of employed persons were in the following sub-sectors: wholesale and retail trade, repair of motor vehicles and motorcycles (840,000); agriculture and forestry (268,000); accommodation and food service activities (170,000); administrative and support service activities (137,000); and construction (137,000).

A look at the industries and sub-sectors experiencing growth despite the still-precarious economic environment would tell us that the vast majority of these jobs are in the private sector, also validating the sentiments of the survey respondents.

Then and now, the private sector has consistently proven itself to be an indispensable partner of the government in economic development in general, and job generation in particular. The private sector’s strengths, resources, and know-how complement the government’s own capabilities.

The challenge to the new administration is to make a longtime commitment to work in tandem with the business community, not only through pronouncements, but more importantly by fostering transparency and accountability in government affairs, by establishing a fair, predictable, and business-friendly regulatory environment, and by respecting the rule of law.

In turn, more domestic and foreign investments will come, providing much-needed jobs for our people and enabling them to live the life they desire and deserve.

This article was originally published in BusinessWorld.

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