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‘You ain’t seen nothing yet’

P-Noy on economy: You ain’t seen nothing yet”. That was the headline of an article in a major newspaper, improving on President Aquino’s boast that the GDP’s first-quarter rate of 7.8 percent would be exceeded in the coming periods.

That growth is nothing to be sneezed at, even if much of it is a one-time push due to election spending, both by candidates and by the Aquino administration to boost its bets’ chances of winning.

The World Bank in its May 2013 report noted that 2.2 percentage points of the first quarter’s growth was “due to campaign spending and the frontloading of infrastructure and other related spending to abide by the election rule banning the commencement of new projects 45 days before the elections.”

Everything’s going down, except for unemployment and underemployment.

Everything’s going down, except for unemployment and underemployment.

What is disturbing though is other economic data that will be the basis for growth or lack of it in the coming months.

Foreign direct investments in the first quarter dropped 8.5 percent to $1.3 billion, which could again make us the ASEAN country getting the least foreign direct investments. Withdrawals of capital reached $799 million in the first three months, and may have already topped more than $1 billion by end-May.

Combined with other global developments such as the tightening of monetary policy in Japan and the US, foreign funds in the stock market have started to move —after squeezing all the profits it could get in our market in the last three years.

The World Bank 2013 report noted that for the Philippines to attain the level of investments seen in other East Asian countries, “it would have to accelerate structural reforms to address key investment climate issues such as the lack of infrastructure, high cost of doing business, and corruption.“

That statement obviously was a diplomatic way of pointing that that the Aquino government had failed in these reform measures.

Exports of goods steeply plunged by 11.5 percent in the first quarter. The history of the now Asian Tigers as well as the newly emerging ones is clear on one aspect: their growth was driven by exports, the irreplaceable industry for their sustainable development. Worse, exports of electronic components—our biggest most advanced export sector — fell 33.5 percent, the steepest decline in a quarter ever.

The bottom line of our economy is also in a bad shape. The unemployment rate in April 2013, according to the National Statistics Office, has risen from 6.9 percent a year go to 7.5 percent.

The unemployment situation is actually worse than the 7.5 percent figure denotes. This is because the labor participation rate—or the portion of Filipinos 15 years and over who should be working—declined from 64.7 percent last year to 63.9. This means that 255,226 Filipinos were so discouraged from looking for work that they simply opted out of the labor market.

As the World Bank explained it, the decline of the labor participation rate suggests an increase in the number of discouraged workers, or those who are not available for work and not actively searching for work because they are tired of looking for work or believe that no work is available.”

The lack of jobs has resulted in high unemployment and underemployment rates, and higher numbers of discouraged workers, which manifests itself in lower labor force participation.

That we have a very bad employment situation is also suggested by the fact that underemployment—defined as those who have work but are still seeking, and therefore available, for more work—has only insignificantly declined, from 19.3 percent last year to 19.2 percent April 2013.

That gives a total of 26.7 percent of our labor force unable to get work or can get only insufficient work, or about 11 million Filipinos, more than a fourth of Filipinos capable of working.

The economy, for all its allegedly stellar growth, isn’t creating enough jobs, as the World Bank report put it: “The lack of jobs has resulted in high unemployment and underemployment rates, and higher numbers of discouraged workers, which manifests itself in lower labor force participation.

It’s not a too bright a future for Filipino masses, as the World Bank analysis pointed out:

“Every year in the last decade, only a fourth of the new entrants to the labor force get good jobs. Of the 1.1 million potential entrants to the labor force, slightly less than half have college degrees. Of the 500,000 college graduates every year, 240,000 can be absorbed in the formal sector such as business processing outsourcing (BPO, 52,000) and manufacturing (20,000). About 200,000 find jobs abroad, and around 60,000 will be unemployed or exit the labor force. The remaining 600,000 new entrants, of which around half have high school degrees, have no other option but to find or create work in the low-skill and low-pay informal sector.

Higher growth can provide more Filipino workers with good jobs. Under the current high growth scenario and the removal of key binding constraints in fast growing sectors (e.g., skills constraint so that the BPO industry can accelerate its annual growth from 20 to 30 percent, and power and other constraints so that the manufacturing can see a doubling of employment), the formal sector will be able to provide good jobs for around 2.2 million people in the next four years (or 550,000 every year between 2013 and 2016).

But the majority of Filipino workers will still be left out. By 2016, around 12.4 million Filipinos [about a million more than today -RDT] would still be unemployed, underemployed, or would have to work in the low-pay informal sector. “

But even that requires a kind of intensive and extensive reform program the Aquino government, even after three years, appears to be either incompetent or unqualified to undertake.

That we-ain’t-seen-nothing-yet headline could mean a totally different development by 2016 from what Aquino meant.