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Complete the recovery first

By: Mahar Mangahas - @inquirerdotnet - Columnist/Philippine Daily Inquirer | June 17,2023 - 09:26 AM

As I read the data, the economic recovery from the great pandemic is still incomplete. It should not be jeopardized by switching attention to a financial megadeal of dubious economic impact to most of the Filipino people.

A full recovery would be achieving the situation in 2019, when every quarter found a large surplus of Filipinos who had become better off (the “gainers”) over those who had become worse off (the “losers”) compared to the year before. By the end of 2019 there were 39 percent gainers versus only 21 percent losers, or net +18 points of gainers over losers in the whole nation.

The statistics I cite here are all counts of people, not of production value. It is the well-being of people that matters, not that of businesses—unless bettering the bottom lines of most businesses also betters the welfare of most people.

Every Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey area had a surplus in December 2019: +22 in the National Capital Region (NCR), +18 in Balance Luzon, +14 in Visayas, and +16 in Mindanao. Every education group had a surplus: +12 among elementary dropouts, +12 among those with at least some junior high school (JHS), +20 among those with some college, and +28 among college graduates. Note the normal direct relation to education: Those more capable of improvement, do improve more.Then came catastrophe in 2020, with net gainers in the unheard-of minus-70s. In 2021, the deficit subsided partially to the minus-40s and minus-30s. In 2022Q1-Q3, it was from -2 to zero, or roughly neutral.

But now, net gainers are clearly afloat at single-digit positive (“First Quarter 2023 Social Weather Survey: Gainers minus Losers at +5,”, 5/29/23). The current +5 is “high” by historical standards. In 148 national surveys ever since 1983, only 23 surveys found more gainers than losers

Then 2015-2019 turned out to be five good years. Net gainers, at the national level, started being regularly positive in 2015. The net gainers score went double-digit from 2016Q3 to 2019Q4 (except for 2018Q2, at +5, and 2018Q3, at -2).

The present net gainers score is geographically uneven. It is highest in Balance Luzon at +12 (up by 2—the only area that improved from 2022Q4). Next is Mindanao at +6 (down by 4), followed by NCR at +2 (down by 16, a big turn-around). It is lowest in Visayas at -14 (worse by 10 from -4 in 2022Q4).

Not all the educational groups are winning out. The new net gainers scores are +20 among college grads, +7 among those with some college/tertiary schooling, +1 among those with some JHS, and -5 among elementary dropouts.Educational poverty is a great problem that needs to be solved. In the SWS March 2023 national sample of adults, college grads are 10 percent, those with some college are 48 percent, those with some JHS are 28 percent, and elementary dropouts are 14 percent.

With schooling attainment so low, it is no wonder that Self-Rated Poverty (SRP) in both 2022Q4 and 2023Q1 was 51 percent of households. SRP has never been less than 38 percent, the record set in 2019Q1 (“Filipino families Self-Rated as Poor steady at 51% since December 2022,” 5/7/23). To me, a full recovery to pre-pandemic times would be SRP of at most 45 percent, the average in 2019.

Self-Rated Food Poverty (SRFP) is far from recovery. Indeed, it has recently been going up rather than down (“Filipino families Self-Rated as Food-Poor rise to 39% from 34% in December 2022,” 5/7/23). I think a full recovery to pre-pandemic times would be achieving an SRFP of at most 31 percent, the average in 2019. The all-time low food-poverty rate was 27 percent of households, set in 2019Q1.

Hunger is back at single-digits, for which we can be thankful (“Hunger recovers from 11.8% to 9.8%, but still not fully back to pre-COVID-19 levels,” 5/11/23). The pre-pandemic average in 2019 of 9.3 percent was a relief from 15 steady years of double-digit average hunger in 2004-2018.

The hunger average had a first peak in 2012, at 19.9 percent of households; but in pandemic year 2020 it reached a new peak of 21.1 percent, with a catastrophic quarterly high in 2020Q3 of 30.7 percent. Hunger is especially pernicious in households with very young children, whose learning capacity gets permanently disadvantaged as a result.

The record-lowest annual average hunger rate was 7.0 percent (2003); the record-low hunger rate for a single quarter was 5.1 percent (2003Q3). This was fully two decades ago, when, obviously, the Filipino people had more access to food than they do now. Finding the way to return to those times should be the Philippines’ highest economic priority.


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TAGS: economic recovery, Social Weather Stations

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