By Keith Richard D. Mariano

NEDA survey shows strength of middle-class aspirations

Posted on March 31, 2016

MOST FILIPINOS aspire to a “middle-class lifestyle” by 2040, with the government taking a critical role in driving the economy to a high-income status and eradicating poverty within a generation.

A couple takes a look at pastry selections inside a bakeshop in Makati City. BW file photo
This is the primary vision Filipinos share for themselves and the country over the long term, based on the results of a nationwide survey commissioned by the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA).

NEDA launched the “AmBisyon Natin 2040” study results in Quezon City yesterday, just over a month before the May 9 national elections.

The survey shows 79.2% of Filipinos aspire to a “simple and comfortable life” with a moderately sized home and sufficient earnings for day-to-day needs. Other priorities include the purchase of a car, university education for children and leisure travel within the country.

A 16.9% segment, meanwhile, aspires to an “affluent life,” described as having savings for unexpected expenses and a business with sufficient earnings for their needs, apart from housing, cars, university education and leisure travel.

Only 3.9% of respondents admitted to seeking the “life of the rich” -- defined as a large house and business with high earnings, in addition to the car, university schooling, savings for unexpected needs and leisure travel.

The survey indicated that 79% of Filipinos want to live near their workplace, with 30% preferring to stay in the capital of a province, another 30% in a big city, and 29% in a small provincial city or town.

Among respondents who have not completed university education, the most preferred fields of study were education science and teacher training (16.5%), business administration and related fields (12.7%), information technology, (11.6%), tourism and hospitality (10.5%, engineering and technology (10%) and law and jurisprudence (10%).

Filipinos want to be mobile, NEDA Deputy Director-General Rosemarie G. Edillon noted during the launch of AmBisyon Natin 2040, with 77% wanting to own a vehicle and traveling being the most frequently cited leisure activity.

Accordingly, NEDA summarized the Filipinos’ aspirations for themselves into a vision statement that reads:

“In 2040, we will all enjoy a stable and comfortable lifestyle, secure in the knowledge that we have enough for our daily needs and unexpected expenses, that we can plan and prepare for our own and our children’s futures. Our families live together in a place of our won, yet we have the freedom to go where we desire, protected and enabled by a clean, efficient, and fair government.”

For the country, 72.1% cited a simple and comfortable life as their preferred standard of living in 2040 while 25% believe all Filipinos should enjoy a prosperous and affluent life by 2040.

Confidence in achieving the desired goals is lower among the poor, with 48.5% of respondents aspiring a comfortable life expressing less optimism in reaching their goals.

Filipinos ranked the eradication of poverty and hunger along with the provision of adequate jobs as the country’s most important economic goal. They identified housing, education and health as second and/or third most important goals.

In the consultations conducted, participants gave prominence to their desire of having “decent” work. Ms. Edillon said this meant enough wages, benefits and incentives along with job stability and security.

In year 2040, 88% of Filipinos believe the economy will benefit if citizens stay in the Philippines for work. More than 69% will choose local employment given a choice.

In terms of good governance, eliminating petty corruption and ensuring ease, efficiency and affordability of government services topped Filipinos’ concerns.

Filipinos also cited the importance of fostering peace and security for the development of the country and the improvement of individuals’ standard of living.

Accordingly, NEDA summarized the Filipinos’ aspirations for the country as:

“The Philippines shall be a country where all citizens are free from hunger and poverty, have equal opportunities, enabled by a fair and just society that is governed with order and unity. A nation where families live together, thriving in vibrant, culturally diverse, and resilient economies.”

The Philippines can realize the vision with the right policies and programs, Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Emmanuel F. Esguerra said, noting the “critical role” the government needs to play.

“Government needs to provide enabling conditions to help Filipinos build up their resources, including physical, intellectual and financial, by fostering sustained economic growth, investing in people, and protecting them against shocks that destabilizes them.”

Citing studies, Mr. Esguerra noted how improvements in productivity and efficiency can triple the country’s per capita gross national income to about $11,000 in 25 years to allow Filipinos standards of living enjoyed in nearly high-income country.

Without implementing reforms, the Philippines’ per capita income is expected to hit around $5,000 only from the current $3,500, Mr. Esguerra said.

Growing the country’s per capita income to $11,000 would allow for the eradication of poverty by 2040 or even sooner, depending both on the robustness of economic growth and its distribution.

“Weak income growth couple with elevated disparity in income can weigh down the efforts to eradicate poverty. On the other hand, if inequality declines significantly, poverty cuts are deeper and the process of eradicating poverty is shorter,” Mr. Esguerra noted.

The NEDA official cited Malaysia to show what having a per capita income of $11,000 means. Using the international extreme poverty threshold of $1.90 per day, Malaysia has managed to reduce extreme poverty incidence below 1%.

“The road to realizing this vision is filled with challenges, however. Firstly, it needs to survive a change in administration four times over the next 25 years,” Mr. Esguerra said.

NEDA developed AmBisyon Natin 2040 to provide a guidepost rather than prescribe specific plans for future administrations, said former Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Arsenio M. Balisacan, who initiated the long-term visioning exercise.

“We are aware of the fixed six-year term of the president and the tendency of each new administration to abandon even good plans and programs of its predecessor to signify change and create a new brand,” noted Mr. Balisacan, who now heads the Philippine Competition Commission.

“A long-term plan drafted under one presidency runs the risk of discontinuity under the successor. Given all this, we though that the best and first thing to do is to get a common vision for ourselves over the long-term,” he added.

NEDA expects future administrations to consider the long-term vision in crafting their respective medium-development plans for the country, given this reflect the people’s aspirations.

The study conducted by the Philippine Survey and Research Center, Inc. involved face-to-face interviews with 10,000 respondents and 42 focus group discussions with participants mostly coming from marginalized sectors.

“Aside from the results of the survey, there are several thematic papers to accompany this exercise... The writers try their best not to sound being prescriptive,” Mr. Esguerra noted in a press conference held after the launch of AmBisyon Natin 2040.