Again, it has come to the fore that the country’s fairly impressive economic growth under President Benigno Aquino 3rd has not been all inclusive. Millions of Filipinos remain poor, with no indication that the poorest of the poor will be able to crawl out of the pits anytime in the near future.
The latest survey by the Social Weather Stations says as much. No less than 10.8 million Filipino households consider themselves poor. The worst part is, there was no improvement from the previous survey period.
The latest results were for the third quarter of 2013. This means that from that time to the third quarter, millions of Filipinos were trapped in marginalized existences. No new jobs were created or became available for them.
The SWS survey said the respondents saw their situation as “generally unchanged.” This is their tragedy. They dare not dream of ever landing decent paying jobs or setting up small businesses which provide sufficient incomes so that no one ever has to go hungry in their households.
The income needed to live decently cannot be considered unattainable. In Metro Manila, where the cost of living is highest in the entire Philippines, a family income of P15,000 is all that is needed to satisfy the poorer half of poor households.
This can translate to one breadwinner earning minimum wage, and his or her partner earning a part-time income of half of that amount.
Clearly, therefore, what is needed by the government to resolve the poverty problem is to provide fulltime and part-time jobs for all. Tax incentives should be offered to industries which provide the higher number of new jobs. Manufacturing appears to be the best bet.
In the rural areas, where the cost of living is much lower, an income of between P9,500 and P10,000 a month would at least take care of a typical family’s basic needs. The agriculture sector should be able to provide the jobs that the head of the household can take, with the children never having to be forced to work at all.
Truly, this is the greatest tragedy of the poorest of the poor. At very young ages, the children are forced to join the informal sector workforce. They take work which offer no benefits, pay salaries below the minimum wage, and in countless cases expose the minors to risk.
With less than three years left in his administration, perhaps President Benigno Aquino 3rd can go for broke. He can gather the best economic minds from the academe and the private sector, and map out a plan which will provide the greatest number of jobs in the shortest possible time.
Not all of the 10.8 million Filipino households which consider themselves poor may be saved, but even if half that number can be convinced that there is a light at the end of their tunnel, then President Aquino can exit Malacañang in 2016 as some kind of economic savior.
Or, he can stay the present course and leave the Palace with a slightly greater number of middle class Filipinos than when he first came in, but with the greater number of his countrymen still mired in hopeless poverty.