Sta. Mesa residents attend a job fair in Manila. — PHILIPPINE STAR/EDD GUMBAN

By John Victor D. Ordoñez, Reporter

THE JOBLESS RATE eased to 4.7% in March, while the underemployment rate fell to its lowest level in 18 years, the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) reported on Monday.

Preliminary results from the PSA’s Labor Force Survey (LFS) showed the jobless rate dipped to 4.7% from 4.8% in February and 5.8% in the same month a year ago.

This translated to 2.42 million jobless Filipinos in March, lower than the 2.47 million a month earlier and 2.88 million in March 2022.

PSA data also showed job quality improved as the underemployment rate fell to 11.2% in March, from 12.9% in February, and 15.8% in the same month a year ago.

This is equivalent to 5.44 million employed Filipinos still looking for more work or longer working hours.

PSA Undersecretary and National Statistician Claire Dennis S. Mapa said this was the lowest underemployment rate since the PSA updated its definition in April 2005.

“Here we see that employment has increased, underemployment has fallen, and the contribution of salary and wage earners is quite substantial, in particular those employed under private establishments,” he said during an online briefing in mixed English and Filipino.

Despite the improvement in the labor market, National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) Secretary Arsenio M. Balisacan pushed for major economic liberalization reforms to address issues and constraints to labor productivity and job creation.

“In a region where our neighbors are also aggressively competing for investments, we must leverage on these changes to the country’s policy regime by ensuring that we urgently address on-the-ground concerns related to the ease of doing business. Investors must not be kept waiting — we must create an enabling regulatory environment that makes it easy for them to set up shop, expand, and generate the high-quality jobs we need,” he said in a statement.

Mr. Balisacan said the government will work to improve health, nutrition and education-related programs to maintain the Filipino workforce’s competitiveness.

“Investments in human capital will ensure that the growing working-age population will be able to maximize the job, market, and technological opportunities made available to it and allow the country to reap the benefits of the demographic dividend,” he said.

In March, the size of the total labor force slipped to 51 million from 51.27 million in February but higher than the 49.85 million total labor force a year earlier.

This brought the labor force participation rate (LFPR) — the share of the Filipino workforce to the total working age population of 15 years old and older — to 66% in March from 66.6% in February, and 65.4% in the same period last year.

PSA data showed the number of employed Filipinos stood at 48.58 million in March, 216,000 lower from 48.80 million in February. Year on year, this was a 1.61 million increase from the 46.98 million employed Filipinos in March 2022.

Due to the lower number of employed workers, the employment rate went up to 95.3% in March from 95.2% in February and 94.2% in the same month a year ago.

Wage and salary earners accounted for the largest share of the labor force at 61.6%.

Mr. Mapa said some young people might have opted out of the workforce to go back to school as the PSA observed a drop in the number of workers in the 15-24 age group.

The Department of Finance (DoF) said March’s employment rate reflected the continuous improvement in the labor market.

“With labor force participation up and unemployment and underemployment down, more Filipinos are actively joining the labor force and getting jobs,” Finance Secretary Benjamin E. Diokno said. “These continued improvements indicate that our economy is poised for continued recovery and growth.”

The services sector remained the top employer in March with an employment rate of 59% of the total workforce, followed by agriculture at 23.5% and industry at 17.5%.

Month on month, higher employment was seen in construction (up by 286,000); transportation and storage (up by 183,000); mining and quarrying (up by 108,000); Manufacturing (up by 102,000);  administrative and support services activities (up by 86,000).

Meanwhile, month-on-month job losses were recorded in wholesale and retail trade, repair of motor vehicles and motor vehicles and motorcycles (down by 289,000);  agriculture and forestry (down by 259,000);  accommodation and food service activities (down by 240,000) fishing and aquaculture (down by 90,000).

An employed Filipino on average worked 40 hours in a week in March, slightly higher than the 39.5 hours in the previous month and 40.6 in March last year.

“Overall, it has been positive, and we are seeing a sustained reopening demand as evidenced by transport, accommodations, and restaurant sector activities,”   Union Bank of the Philippines, Inc. Chief Economist Ruben Carlo O. Asuncion said in a Viber message.

However, he noted labor demand may weaken after the summer months as seasonal jobs tend to decline.

Jose “Sonny” G. Matula, president of the Federation of Free Workers, said there is a need to boost and modernize the agriculture sector to generate high-quality jobs.

“Integrating agriculture with manufacturing can open new avenues for job creation and economic growth,” he said in a Viber message.

“By investing in modern agricultural technologies, such as smart farming and precision agriculture, we can increase productivity, improve crop yields, and create sustainable, high-quality jobs for our citizens.”

Year on year, agriculture and forestry had the largest decline in employment in March with a 607,000 drop from a year prior, the PSA said.

In April 2005, the PSA revised the definition of joblessness as people without work; currently unavailable for work; and seeking work or not seeking work because they believe that no work is available or waiting for results of a previous job application due to temporary illness disability, bad weather, or waiting for rehire or job recall.