The transition to a less restrictive general community quarantine (GCQ) in many places was expected to narrow the unemployment rate of more than 17 percent posted last April, which broke a 15-year record, according to the country’s chief economist on Monday (June 8).

Karl Kendrick T. Chua, acting socioeconomic planning secretary, said at an online press conference that the 17.7 percent unemployment rate last April, or 7.3 million Filipinos without work, was offshoot of enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) which froze business activity to prevent coronavirus transmission.

The job losses, he said, were not results of a weak economy.

“This unemployment is temporary,” said Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III, the Duterte administration’s chief economic manager.

“Demand will start picking up and people will be back to employment,” Dominguez said.

“It’s nothing structural in our economy—there’s nothing structurally wrong with it,” he said. “In fact, we’re structurally very strong.”

In the meantime, Dominguez urged members of the Social Security System (SSS), pension fund system for private sector workers, to avail themselves of unemployment insurance which the SSS offers.

During the two-and-a-half-month ECQ—said to be among the most restrictive COVID-19 lockdowns in the region, 75 percent of the economy ground to a halt to implement strict social distancing, said Chua, who heads the state planning agency National Economic and Development Authority (Neda).

Under GCQ, which was supposed to be less restrictive than ECQ, Chua said 25 percent of economic activity is still not allowed to resume.

Aside from jobs data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) culled through the quarterly labor force survey (LFS), Chua said the government was also collecting employment data through Neda and the Department of Finance (DOF).

Neda and DOF have been conducting monthly surveys to gauge the job market and “have an indication of where the economy is headed,” Chua said.

He said the April LFS showed 2.2 million jobs were lost during ECQ. Initial results of the survey showed “we are still not yet there” as far as jobs recovery was concerned, Chua added.

He said he sees the numbers improving in the July LFS “when we capture the June outcome.”

“We can see significant improvement because the economy has actually started quite a lot,” Chua said.

During ECQ, the government gave away P500 billion in cash aid and subsidies to vulnerable sectors. These included poor households and displaced workers, said Chua.

He said this was on top of P50 billion poured into the health care system to fight the pandemic.

Edited by TSB

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