• What matters most

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    Ernesto F. Herrera

    Ernesto F. Herrera

    EVERYBODY is talking about how the Philippine economy is growing but it is a jobless growth.

    The local research group Ibon Foundation said in a statement that job generation under the Aquino administration has declined to only 317,000 in 2013 from 408,000 in 2012, and 1.2 million in 2011. It added that job generation in the Philippines is the lowest in 13 years, or since 2000.

    According to a Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey, the number of unemployed Filipinos in the last quarter of 2013 increased to more than 12 million, or 27.5 percent, as 2.5 million Filipinos joined the ranks of the jobless between September and December.

    The findings are not surprising, really. Past administrations also measured lowest in poverty alleviation despite the creditable economic performance. And obviously, jobs generation is the best poverty reduction measure there is.

    What gives? Are the economic indicators painting a picture that is markedly different from what most Filipinos are actually experiencing?

    This just goes to show you that despite the good if not glowing economic numbers, majority of Filipinos still have the same problem: getting a job and putting food on the table. And the government still has the same order of battle: how to make the country’s good economic performance matter to this majority.

    A rising GDP will not lead to sustainable growth and poverty reduction if the money circulating in the economy flows only among the top 10 or 20 percent of the population. All the Aquino administration’s anti-corruption efforts will not matter if they don’t translate to poverty reduction. The President must live up to his campaign slogan, “Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap!”

    The GDP is simply a gross measure of market activity, of money changing hands. GDP numbers do not really tell us whether most of that money actually goes into the hands of the people who need it most. Other economic scorecards can tell us whether this is so.

    The United Nations Development Program (UNDP), for instance, has the Human Development Index or HDI which measures things like GDP per capita, the literacy rate, life expectancy rate, school enrollment, the purchasing power of the currency. The Philippines’ HDI ranking is lower than a lot of our neighbors in East Asia and the Pacific.

    Obviously the mere quantity of economic activity, as measured by a common indicator like the GDP, taken alone, says virtually nothing about whether life for the common Filipino is getting better or worse.

    It ignores the distribution of income and makes no distinction between workers with top-paying jobs and those workers who can barely eke out a living. It ignores the fact, for instance, that the record remittances which makes economic figures so rosy have a heavy social toll in terms of broken families.

    There are other costs and factors that should count for something when you’re calculating the economics of a country.

    Economics must be a means to an end. It is not an end in itself. Real economic growth must benefit the people. And when the economic figures are out of sync with the everyday experience of most Filipinos, the government cannot simply shrug their shoulders and say the figures are right, and the common Filipino’s experience is wrong.

    Ultimately, a country should gauge its economic performance on the ability to provide citizens with what they need to live a decent life: enough food, adequate shelter and health services, a well-paying job, leisure and family time and a good education.

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