Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts

Vol. V,    No. 18      June 12 - 18, 2005      Quezon City, Philippines











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Copyright 2004 Bulatlat



Govt's New Statistical Trick Hides Job Losses

The government will happily announce drastically lower unemployment rates this June. But this is only because it changed the way it counts the country’s jobless, causing them to statistically disappear.


The Arroyo administration has a miserable employment record. Despite economic growth that it proudly trumpets, unemployment has been inexorably rising since 2001 when Ms. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo took over the presidency. The average annual unemployment rate rose from 11.1 percent in 2001 to 11.8 percent last year – save for the 12.8 percent rate in 1985, this is the highest recorded in the last half-century. In absolute terms, this means 4.3 million jobless Filipinos which is the greatest joblessness the country has ever seen.

It seems though that the government’s solution to the country’s grave unemployment problem is to just stop counting as many jobless Filipinos as it can get away with. It is doing this through methodological sleight-of-hand: redefining who counts as jobless so that less jobless will be counted.

The National Statistics Office’s (NSO) official 2nd quarter (April) unemployment figures usually come out in mid-June. Among the four quarterly figures – January, April, July, October – the April rates are always the highest since they reflect how the labor force is bloated by students vacationing, graduating and dropping out. The government is conveniently changing its methodology in time to avoid what will probably be scandalously high April 2005 rates.

Up until this April, the NSO had been using the same definition since 1987. Here the unemployed are those without work and seeking work, as well as those without work and “not looking for work because of the belief that no work was available, or because of temporary illness/disability, bad weather, pending job application or waiting for job interview.” 

Starting April, however, the NSO will be using a so-called “International Labor Organization (ILO) concept.” According to this the unemployed are those without work, seeking work and available for work. Romulo Virola, National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB) secretary general, has hailed the new definition as “adhering to what is conceptually correct and internationally accepted.”

Three problems

However, there are three problems with this changing of the unemployment definition now.

The first is its timing. The NSO and NSCB can belabor the long chronology of the new definition or how it is “internationally accepted” ad infinitum. But the point is that the main beneficiary of this statistical maneuver is the Arroyo government whose dismally low credibility can do without yet another blow to it. The new definition could cut the unemployment rate by as much as four percent and the number of unemployed by some 1.5 million. The resulting unemployment rate would magically be brought down to its lowest in two-and-a-half decades.

The second is that the shift to the new definition obscures the country’s dismal jobs situation more than clarify it. Government neoliberal policies have clearly wreaked havoc on the economy and destroyed agricultural and industrial jobs: unemployment started to rise in the wake of the 1990s “globalization” frenzy that undermined domestic productive sectors. This new definition, especially coming while the unemployment rate is nearing an all-time record high, will gloss over this critical fact and prevent comparability with previous years. In that sense the shift conveniently supports the government’s stubborn adherence to the anti-people neoliberal agenda.

The third problem is that the new rate-reducing definition evades so many other important jobs-related issues. How rational is the current NSO definition of being employed, which is “working at all even for only one hour during the past week?” What kind of economy is it where two-fifths of jobs are just part-time, or where half of jobs are own-account and unpaid family workers? What does it mean that some 8-9 million Filipinos, or over 10 percent of the population, have had to leave the country just to find work?

The government’s official unemployment rate target for 2005, according to its Medium-Term Philippine Development Plan 2004-2010, is 11.9 percent. It looks well on the way to achieving this by deceitful administrative fiat. But it’s one thing to try and deceive and entirely another if the deceit will work. With so many millions actually unemployed or just not earning enough from what work they have, the government will probably come out of this latest trick looking even worse than ever. Bulatlat




© 2004 Bulatlat  Alipato Publications

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