Unemployment During COVID-19

Published: September 6, 2023

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Unemployment During COVID-19

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As COVID-19 cases continue to increase in the Philippines, the level of inequality in the country has become startlingly clear. Lockdown measures have been implemented across the country to stop the spread of the virus; however, this has unnecessarily burdened the Filipino working class who need to work – day in and day out – to meet their daily needs. While nations across the globe – with notable exceptions like Taiwan, Singapore, Japan, and South Korea – have imposed lockdowns in major cities, no country has perhaps pushed the limits so far than the Philippines. 

With strict lockdown policies, the banning of public transportation, and other measures taken to stop the spread of COVID-19, many working class Filipinos have been affected in the worst possible ways. The informal economy and mass transportation have ceased to function, leaving families stretching their meager incomes. Employees in the construction, services, and manufacturing sectors have been advised to take forced leaves or are in limbo as everybody is ordered to stay in their own homes. 

In this section, we’ll discuss:

  • Ways COVID-19 Lockdowns are Affecting the Filipino Working Class
  • Job Loss and Unemployment Due to COVID-19 in the Philippines
  • Lockdown and Daily Wage Earners 
  • Unemployment Effect to the Families of Jobless Filipinos
  • Job Loss and Unemployment Stress
    • The link between unemployment and mental health
    • Tips to cope with job loss

Ways COVID-19 Lockdowns are Affecting the Filipino Working Class

The worst effects of social distancing and lockdown measures is felt by the poor and socially disadvantaged. Here are 2 key ways coronavirus lockdowns are affecting the Filipino working class. 

  1. Access to Money
    While older people are more susceptible to the symptoms of COVID-19, they typically have more money at their disposal. More of their incomes come from pensions, which in the short term are at least less affected by the economic shock resulting from social distancing and lockdown measures.

    However, those without savings to get them through the lockdown, including many young adults as well as self-employed and small business owners, are struggling. They are finding it difficult to pay their rents or their mortgage, and – in some cases to put food on the table – as they grapple with their applications for the government support available.

  2. Access to Work
    Leaving aside those involved in the healthcare industry and other essential jobs, highly-paid desk-working professionals are most likely to have the opportunity, the means, and the know-how to work effectively from home. By contrast, blue-collar or lower-paid workers, the self-employed, and those in the informal sector – and many trades deemed as non-essential by the government – are having a very hard time.

    With lockdown, quarantine, and social distancing measures in place, many Filipino workers are unable to go to work or have lost their jobs completely. A large number of workers are in a ‘no work, no pay’ arrangement as businesses go on a forced hiatus.

Job Loss and Unemployment Due to COVID-19 in the Philippines

The COVID-19 pandemic has rendered more Filipinos jobless, with the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) reporting 7.3 million unemployed adults in April. The PSA reported a 17.7% unemployment rate, an all-time high. The figure rose from 5.3% in January and 5.1% from a year ago, which meant an additional 5 million people without work

PSA further reported that 13 million Filipinos had jobs but were unable to report to work, representing 38.4% – nearly all of them credited this disruption to COVID-19 regulations. The Recreation, Arts, and Entertainment sector saw the biggest drop, with the number of employed workers slashed by 54% as television and movie productions had to stop operations. 

This is followed by a 43.1% decrease in workers in air conditioning, gas, steam, and electricity supply, a 40.6% drop for communication and information companies, and 35.8% decline for food and accommodation services. The construction industry also saw employees cut by a third. These industry sectors were restricted during the first few weeks of lockdown. About 48.8% of work in the services sector, a third are agriculture workers, and 17.4% are industrial employees. 

The number of Filipinos with jobs fell to 33.8 million, representing about 82.3% of the market. This is a significant drop from 94.7% at the start of 2020. Meanwhile, nearly a fifth of workers considered themselves ‘underemployed’ or those who want better job opportunities or longer hours. All regions logged double-digit unemployment rate, with the highest tallied in the Bangsamoro region at 29.8%. People also worked shorter hours, with the average down to 35 hours in April from 41.8 hours the previous year. Normally, the regular workweek is 40 hours.

Lockdown and Daily Wage Earners

Daily wage earners and those in the informal sector are among those most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The informal sector constitutes a big portion of the Philippine’s labor force, with around 15 million workers. The informal economy consists of self-employed, independent small-scale producers and distributors of services and goods. Workers in this sector are for the most part, not covered by the country’s labor laws and regulations. 

From the start, these workers have expressed fears on how they would survive the pandemic. While they understand the importance of staying at home and supporting the lockdown, they also realize the implication of these measures on their ability to make a living to support their needs during the crisis. In this situation, they turn to the government for support both in terms of immediate and short-term economic relief, but also long-term programs to sustain livelihoods and jobs. 

“Workers in the informal sector, which includes transport workers, street vendors but also farmers and fishers, have always been vulnerable. They have low pay and they work in poor conditions. But now it seems like both formal and informal workers now suffer the same fate, both feeling the impacts of the crisis,” said Wilson Fortaleza of Partido Manggagawa (Workers Party) in an online discussion organized by In Defense of Human Rights and Dignity Movement (IDEFEND) and the Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA).

Informal worker Kathy Regala adds, “When we look closely at the conditions of workers in the informal sector, and daily wage earners – we see how dire the situation is. Even prior to COVID-19 we were already struggling to earn enough living to sustain our daily needs. Now we cannot even go out to do that and we are just waiting for assistance from government.”

Unemployment Effect to the Families of Jobless Filipinos

The outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic has profoundly affected many Filipino families. As the pandemic has intensified in the country, low-wage working families immediately experienced drastically reduced work hours and unemployment. 

For many people, job loss can be a disaster with far-reaching negative economic and psychological consequences. Unemployment leads to lower earnings, worse mental and physical health, and lasting unhappiness for those directly affected. The negative psychological consequences of unemployment can even spill over to the families of jobless Filipinos. 

Parental unemployment and job loss can have wide-ranging negative impacts on the well-being of families and children. For Filipino families, unemployment can mean more than just the loss of a job and resources. As parents struggle to make ends meet, instability can strain parents’ and children’s relationships and hurt their overall well-being. Psychological and economic stress can lead to changes in housing or family structure that may have long-lasting negative effects on children’s development. 

According to research that tracked children and their parents for over three decades[15], respondents who experienced parental unemployment during early (0 – 5 years) and late childhood (11 – 15 years) have lower life satisfaction at ages 18 to 31. This finding suggests that the psychological cost of parental unemployment may be higher for younger children since negative experiences accumulate over life and stressful events early in life have a stronger effect on outcomes later in life. On the other hand, older children may feel pressured to take more responsibility in the family. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has also forced Filipino families to try to maintain work-family balance with few supports. With daycare facilities and schools closed, parents are solely responsible for childcare and perhaps even homeschooling. Yet, many parents are also working from home, while others have heightened financial concerns due to losing the job, and yet others involved in healthcare may be living away from their families to reduce the risk of exposing them to the virus. 

Whatever the case may be, work-family balance has become even more challenging. 

Job Loss and Unemployment Stress

In the Philippines, unemployment soared to 17.7%, equivalent to around 7.3 million jobless Filipinos amid the COVID-19 pandemic. This is the highest unemployment rate on record. The stress of unemployment can take a serious toll on your health and well-being under any circumstance. However, during the COVID-19 pandemic, your stress levels may be even higher than usual. 

With our current situation and the state of the global economy, there is a lower chance of landing a new job anytime soon. Plus, it’s unclear when social distancing measures will end or what shape the Philippine economy will be in when you are able to return to work. 

Add in the inability to leave home, the need to educate your children, and the fear of getting sick and you’ve got a recipe for an increased risk of psychological and mental health issues. Fortunately, there are several things that you can do to cope with stress in a healthy way if you’ve lost your job. Managing your stress and taking positive action may help you maintain your psychological and mental health during this pandemic.

The link between unemployment and mental health.

Unemployment has been linked to a higher risk of violence, substance abuse, anxiety, and depression. In fact, studies show that people who lose their jobs are twice as likely to report anxiety and depression symptoms when compared with people who remain steadily employed. 

Here are some reasons why unemployment can take a serious toll on your psychological and mental health:

  • Lack of purpose.
    Not bringing home any income to support the family and not contributing to society can leave some people feeling as though their lives don’t have any meaning and purpose. 

  • Difficulty paying for basic necessities.
    Reduced income makes it hard to pay for housing, purchase food, and pay for other day-to-day needs. The associated stress can make it harder to stay mentally healthy.

  • Reduced social interaction.
    With people being forced to stay at home due to the coronavirus pandemic, social interactions have been severely limited. However, unemployment can further reduce social interaction, which can take a direct toll on mood and overall well-being. 

  • Less resources to maintain good mental health.
    When all of your energy, time, and resources have to go to managing your life – managing housing, food, and basic necessities – you have less resources left to devote to behaviors and activities that promote good health, such as exercising, maintaining social relationships, etc. 

  • Unhealthy coping habits can be more tempting.
    While most people may respond to unemployment by cutting extra costs, others may turn to unhealthy coping habits such as alcohol and drugs, which can take a toll on one’s physical and mental health.

Tips to cope with job loss.
Losing your job is never easy. If you’re feeling stressed and overwhelmed, here are some tips to help you cope. 

  • Allow yourself to grieve.
    Grief is a natural response to loss – that includes losing a job. Aside from losing your main source of income, unemployment also comes with other major losses (e.g. loss of self-confidence, loss of professional identity, loss of meaning and purpose, loss of security, etc.) that may be just as difficult to face.

    Everyone grieves differently; however, there are healthy and unhealthy ways to mourn the loss of your job. It can be easy to turn to unhealthy habits such as bingeing on junk food or drinking for comfort; however, these will only provide you with temporary relief. Acknowledging your feelings, on the other hand, will help you deal with the loss and help you move on. Here are some healthy ways to grieve:

    • Give yourself time to adjust.
      Adjusting to unemployment and grieving the loss of your job can take some time. Go easy on yourself. Give yourself time to adjust. 
    • Accept reality.
      While it’s important to acknowledge how difficult unemployment can be – particularly in the face of this global crisis – it’s equally important to avoid wallowing. Rather than dwelling on your job loss, try to accept the situation. The sooner you do so, the sooner you can move on to the next phase in your life. 
    • Don’t beat yourself up.
      It’s easy to start blaming or criticizing yourself when you’re unemployed. Don’t put yourself down. You’ll need your self-confidence to remain intact as you look for a new job. If you start to think,
      ‘I’m a loser’ or ‘I wasn’t good enough for my job’, remind yourself, ‘I lost my job because of the pandemic, not because I was bad at my job.’
    • Think of your unemployment status as a temporary setback.
      Millions of Filipinos have lost their jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, instead of thinking of this as a permanent situation, think of it as a temporary setback in your career. 

  • Reach out to your loved ones.
    At this difficult time, your natural reaction may be to withdraw from your loved ones out of anxiety or shame. However, don’t underestimate the importance of other people when you’re faced with the stress of unemployment. Their support can help you cope with the stress of losing your job.

    Also, remember that unemployment affects the whole family, so don’t try to shoulder your problems on your own. Now, more than ever, is the time to lean on your loved ones, even if you take pride in being strong and self-sufficient. Your family’s support can help you thrive and survive, even during this difficult time. 

  • Exercise to relieve stress.
    If your work prevented you from exercising before, it’s important to make the time now. Exercise is a great stress-reliever. Aside from relieving tension and relaxing tense muscles in the body, exercise releases endorphins to improve your mood.

    Even if you can’t go out due to the pandemic, there are numerous exercises that you can do at home. Here are some at-home workouts you can try:

    • Lunges
    • Pushups
    • Squats
    • Sit-ups
    • Squat Jumps
    • Front and Side Planks
    • Hip Rotations 
    • Single Leg Stands
    • And more! 

Even just doing simple household chores can be a great way to exercise and get moving!

  • Eat healthy, well-balanced meals.
    Your diet may seem like the last thing on your mind when you’re stressed out about losing your job and are struggling to make ends meet. However, eating a healthy and well-balanced diet is more important than ever in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Here are some tips to help you eat healthier:

    • Minimize refined carbs and sugar.
      You may crave comfort foods or sugary snacks, such as chocolates, pasta, or French fries. However, these high-carbohydrate and sugary foods can quickly lead to a crash in energy and mood. 
    • Eat more Omega-3 fatty acids.
      Omega-3 fatty acids can give your mood a boost. The best sources of omega-3 fatty acids are fatty fish, such as salmon, sardines, salmon, and mackerel. 
    • Limit salt intake.
      Due to the pandemic, the availability of fresh foods has decreased and people are becoming more reliant on processed, frozen, or canned foods, many of which contain high levels of salt. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends consuming less than 5g of salt per day. To achieve this, prioritize foods with reduced or no added salt. Also, consider rinsing canned foods to remove some of the excess sodium. Avoid adding extra salt when cooking and to your meals at the table. 
    • Limit your fat intake.
      The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends limiting total fat intake to less than 30% of total energy intake, of which, no more than 10% should come from saturated fat. Choose cooking methods that require less or no fat, such as sautéing, steaming, or grilling instead of frying foods. Also, choose foods that contain healthy sources of unsaturated fats, such as nuts and fish. Reduce foods such as fatty and red meats, butter, and full-fat dairy products. Avoid trans fats as much as possible.
    • Stay hydrated.
      Good hydration is important for optimal health. Choose water instead of sugar-sweetened beverages to stay hydrated while limiting your intake of excess calories and sugar. If you want to enhance the taste of your water, add frozen or fresh fruits or herbs such as rosemary or mint. 

Here are some self-care reminders:

    • Maintain balance.
      Don’t let your job search consume all of your time. Make time for rest, relaxation, and fun. Your job search will be more effective if you are physically, emotionally, and mentally at your best. 
    • Practice relaxation techniques.
      Relaxation techniques such as meditation, yoga, and deep breathing are great ways to alleviate stress. They can also boost your feelings of joy and serenity, and teach you to stay calm amid challenging situations. 
    • Get plenty of rest and sleep.
      Sleep has a big impact on your mood and productivity. Make sure that you get between 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night. Getting enough rest and sleep can help keep your stress levels under control. 

Take care of yourself.

The stress of unemployment, on top of all the worries that the COVID-19 pandemic brings, can take a toll on your well-being and leave you more vulnerable to mental health problems. Now more than ever, it’s very important to take care of yourself.

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About the Author
Meet Sam, a bookworm and a perpetual technology enthusiast, whose insatiable curiosity fuels a lifelong journey of continuous learning. With a deep love of photography, music, art, and film making, he find inspiration in the world’s myriad of cultures, making every moment an adventure in creativity.