Leading financial figures in the Philippines promised on Friday that the government was on track to growing its economy to the point of halving the nation's poverty, by 2015.
That's a sizeable prediction. Almost 28 percent of the country's 97 million residents live below the poverty line, The Associated Press reported. Government economists say they can bring that figure to 16.6 percent in just a couple of years. The government forecasts economic growth of almost 7 percent for the rest of this year, and it's not changing that prediction.
The numbers are being examined, but experts still see that growth pattern as a "reasonable assumption," said socioeconomic planning secretary Arsenio Balisacan.
The key to achieving the poverty-reduction goal, he said, was for the government to prioritize: Job creation first, housing issues second, and cash payouts to poor, third. The country provides cash to poverty-level families with children as long as the children stay in school and make regular visits to doctors.
Creating better jobs for Filipinos and reducing the underemployment rate by half to about 10 percent over the next two years would help the Philippines achieve the nearly impossible 2015 Millennium Development Goal on poverty reduction, the country's top economic manager said.
Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan said that underemployment, or the poor quality of jobs among many Filipinos, was largely to blame for the extremely slow progress of efforts to lift people out of poverty over the past two decades.
Under the Millennium Development Goal on poverty reduction, to which the Philippines as a member of the United Nations is committed, poverty incidence should be halved by 2015 from its level in the early 1990s.
From 33 to 16.6 percent
In the case of the Philippines, the goal is to bring down poverty incidence from 33 percent to 16.6 percent.
As of June last year, poverty incidence in the country stood at 27.9 percent.
Balisacan said the very minimal reduction in poverty incidence from the 1990s level makes the 2015 goal difficult to achieve.
"It is not impossible [to bring down poverty incidence to 16.6 percent by 2015], but it is very challenging," Balisacan said. "Therefore, we need to generate jobs of good quality," he added.
The bigger problem
Balisacan said that in the Philippines, underemployment is a bigger problem than unemployment, with the underemployment rate in April pegged at 19.2 percent, which is equivalent to 7.252 million Filipinos.
Being "underemployed" technically means that people have a job, but are either looking for additional jobs, new jobs with longer work hours, or additional work hours in their present jobs.
"I would like to see the underemployment rate reduced by about half to 10 percent," Balisacan on Friday said in a forum organized by the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines.
"We also want to see an increase in the proportion of wage and salary workers to the total number of the employed," he added.
Balisacan said the Aquino administration was in the process of updating the Philippine Development Plan and would like to focus on programs and projects that would create decent jobs for the unemployed in the remainder of its term.
These programs and projects included more tourism-oriented infrastructure, a higher budget for education, and the streamlining of policies to boost the manufacturing sector, the economic manager said.
Balisacan said the government is sticking to its 6 to 7 percent growth forecast this year despite the surprising 7.8 percent GDP leap in the first quarter, preferring to be conservative due to remaining economic uncertainties in the United States, Europe and China.
The economy was projected to grow between 6.5 percent and 7.5 percent next year, and 7 to 8 percent in 2015, he added.
Balisacan said infrastructure bottlenecks will be addressed and the economy diversified from dependence on consumption and services to one with stronger industries and investments.
The latest Labor Force Survey conducted by the National Statistics Office showed that the country's unemployment rate stood at 7.5 percent in April 2013, up from 6.9 percent in the same period last year.
Significant poverty incidence
But Balisacan said an unemployment rate in the 7-percent territory was not that bad, and that the country's high underemployment rate was the main reason that poverty incidence remains significant.
Data from the NSO showed that of 37.8 million Filipinos who had jobs during the period of the survey, 57.5 percent or at least 21.8 million fell under the category of "wage and salary earners." The rest were either unpaid family workers, self-employed, or employers in their own farms or businesses.
With report from Associated Press and Inquirer News