LATEST official labor data showed the ranks of Filipinos wanting more work to augment income declined in January, although those that were left without jobs increased, data from the government’s statistical agency showed.

At the same time, the period saw a rise in the number of employed Filipinos even as the ranks of the unemployed went up. This can be explained by the increase in the participation rate, which indicates more Filipinos have entered the labor force.

Preliminary results of the January 2020 round of the Labor Force Survey (LFS) conducted by the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) put the country’s unemployment rate unchanged at 5.3% from the same period last year.

A closer look at the data, however, showed the number of jobless Filipinos went up by 106,651 to 2.39 million in January from 2.28 million in the same LFS round last year.

Meanwhile, the underemployment rate — the proportion of those already working, but still looking for more work or longer working hours — improved to 14.8% from 15.4%.

This is equivalent to 6.32 million Filipinos, down by 8,785 from 6.33 million previously.

The latest unemployment and underemployment rates were the lowest among the January rounds of the LFS since the government adopted new definitions in 2005.

The size of the labor force was approximately 45.04 million out of the 73 million Filipinos aged at least 15 years old, yielding a labor force participation rate (LFPR) of 61.7%. This was higher than last year’s 60.3%.

The employment rate, which is the proportion of the employed to the total labor force, remained steady at 94.7% in January compared to the previous year.

In absolute terms, the country posted a net employment gain of 1.62 million to 42.65 million during the period from 41.03 million.

For ING Bank N.V.-Manila Senior Economist Nicholas Antonio T. Mapa, the latest labor data results reflected more job opportunities becoming available as the economy grows.

“In general, an improvement in the (LFPR) signals improved labor market prospects as more and more job applicants return to the job market to look for work. We can say the number of discouraged workers decreases, which is usually because overall, the economic climate appears to be improving,” he said.

UnionBank of the Philippines, Inc. Chief Economist Ruben Carlo O. Asuncion pointed to the country’s sustained economic growth as one of the reasons for the increase in employment. “If and when the economy continues to grow, expect more improvements in employment,” he said.

Asked on the increasing number of unemployed, Mr. Asuncion surmised that this may have something to do with the weakness in the industry sector.

“I suspect [this weakness came] from the manufacturing sector that has been slumping since the beginning of 2019, not to mention that this has been a global phenomenon,” Mr. Asuncion said.

Industry accounted for 18.8% of employed Filipinos in January, down from last year’s 19.9%.

Meanwhile, the employment share in services inched up to 58.6% from 58.5%.

Agriculture employed 22.7% of the workers, up from 21.6%.

Wage and salary workers accounted for 65.2% of the work force in January from 66.1% in the same period last year. Self-employed individuals without any paid employees consisted of 26.2% (from 26%), unpaid family workers at 6.2% (from 4.6%), and employees in their own family-operated farm or business at 2.4% (from 3.3%).

Meanwhile, working hours averaged 41.3 per week in January, less than the average of 43.3 hours a year earlier.

Full-time workers — those who worked for at least 40 hours in a week — went down to 67.6% from 72.1%. Part-time workers accounted for 31.6% of employed persons from 27.3%.

More youth entered the labor force in January as its LFPR increased to 37.4% from 35.9% in the same LFS round last year.

The employment rate among the youth — defined as those aged 15-24 years old, was 86.4% in January — up from 85.8% in January last year. This corresponds to an additional 354,000 youth population that were employed during the latest survey period, bringing the total to 6.42 million.

The unemployment and underemployment rates among this segment improved to 13.6% (from 14.2%) and 12.5% (from 14.6%), respectively. In absolute terms, however, the number of unemployed and underemployed youth went up to 1.014 million (from 1.006 million), and 803,760 (from 884,250).

Similarly, the proportion of youth not in employment, education and training (NEET) declined to 16.9% from the previous 19.5%, but saw its ranks increase to 990,252 from 984,808.

For UnionBank’s Mr. Asuncion, the impact of the COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) and its repercussions on tourism and trade “will be felt” in the next survey round.

“There may be an uptick in unemployment as tourism-related firms and particularly export-related industries are challenged by the health care scare,” he said.

For ING’s Mr. Mapa, the employment trend is expected to continue “as the economy is able to provide more labor opportunities” despite the COVID-19 outbreak.

“Robust consumption and the government’s stimulus pledges should come in handy to battle the impending economic slowdown due to COVID-19,” Mr. Mapa said. — Lourdes O. Pilar