‘Exclusionary growth’ seen in big dip in PH employment in 2017

Michael Bueza

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‘Exclusionary growth’ seen in big dip in PH employment in 2017
Ibon Foundation notes that this is the largest drop in the number of employed Filipinos 'since the aftermath of the 1997 Asian financial crisis'

MANILA, Philippines – The big dip in the number of employed in the country in 2017 shows that the economic gains in recent years has yet to be felt by many Filipinos, said think tank Ibon Foundation.

Everyone concerned about the nation’s economic development and the Filipinos’ welfare “should be worried about the evidently exclusionary growth in 2017,” added Ibon Foundation Executive Director Sonny Africa.

Preliminary data for 2017 from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) showed there are 40.335 million employed Filipinos in 2017, down from 40.998 million in 2016 –  a decrease of around 663,000. 

This puts the annual employment rate in 2017 to 94.3%, down from 94.6% in 2016. 

The job losses in 2017 are the “worst since the aftermath of the Asian financial crisis in 1997,” Africa said in an email to Rappler. This was echoed in Ibon Foundation’s economic and political briefing paper for 2017.

(A quick check with PSA data available online shows a drop in the number of employed Filipinos happening between 1999 and 2000, but changes in methodology and computations also took place around that time, which might affect the comparison of data from this period as well as from earlier years.)

Africa said that among sectors, the biggest decreases in 2017 “were in the agriculture sector, but also in mining, utilities, and many services subsectors such as trade, hotel and restaurant, finance, real estate, education, health and social work, and arts and entertainment.”

“These could not be offset by only slight job generation in manufacturing, construction, transport, information and communication, and the public sector,” he added.

He also argued that the country’s unemployment magnitudes and rates “are low only because hundreds of thousands of Filipinos dropped out of the labor force, and so are no longer counted as ‘unemployed’ by official statistics.”

The unemployment rate stood at 5.7% in 2017, up from 5.4% in 2016.


In 1997, Asia was in financial turmoil. The Philippines was not badly hit as other countries, but it still felt the effects of the crisis. In 1998, its gross domestic product contracted by -0.6% compared to the 5.2% GDP growth in 1997.

Comparing that to the country’s status today – as among the world’s fastest-growing economies – makes the dip in employment numbers “all the more alarming.”

“Severe job losses amid years of historically high growth points to serious structural problems and a dual economy of prosperity for a few yet gross underdevelopment for the majority,” said Africa.

This also points to “how the economy’s capacity to generate jobs has still not developed even after some 6 to 7 years of hyped rapid economic growth,” he noted.

Africa said the stock market is a “poor barometer of development because it only reflects investor sentiment and not national economic development, much less the conditions of the majority.” 

“For instance, the Philippine Stock Exchange index closed 2017 at an all-time high, despite it being a miserable year of huge job losses and stagnant real wages,” he said.

Africa also said that the government “is just banking on short-term job generation” from its “Build, Build, Build” infrastructure plan

“Real development, however, demands deeper structural transformation of the economy with the government more actively protecting and supporting domestic agriculture and Filipino industry,” he said.

For annualized employment figures, the PSA took the average of the results of its Labor Force Survey (LFS) conducted 4 times a year.

A look at the per-quarter LFS data shows that while the number of employed Filipinos increased from July to October 2017, there was a big decrease between the October 2016 and January 2017 results.

The PSA defines employed Filipinos as those who are 15 years old and above who, during the reference week of the survey, reported to work for at least an hour. – Rappler.com

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Michael Bueza

Michael is a data curator under Rappler's Tech Team. He works on data about elections, governance, and the budget. He also follows the Philippine pro wrestling scene and the WWE. Michael is also part of the Laffler Talk podcast trio.