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Thursday, February 29, 2024

Half of all Pinoys feel poor

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The second Marcos administration must really work double-time if it really wants to bring down the poverty level

Mahirap. Poor. That’s how 48 percent of Filipino families described themselves based on the results of the latest Social Weather Stations survey conducted from Sept. 28 to Oct. 1.

If after 15 months of the Marcos Jr. administration, half of all Filipino families feel poor, then it’s likely that its anti-poverty programs and projects may not be working at all.

Or perhaps these programs and projects really need to take root for years before we see tangible results.

If we’re not mistaken, the Philippine Development Plan for 2028 seeks a reduction in the over-all poverty rate to single digit level by the end of the Marcos term four-and-a-half years from now.

Is this achievable? Yes, according to experts. But that’s getting ahead of the story.

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The survey showed that 25 percent said they were not poor, and 27 percent rated placed themselves on the borderline.

Compared to June 2023, the percentage of poor families increased by 3 points from 45 percent. Borderline families fell by 6 points from 33 percent, and families which were not poor rose by 3 points from 22 percent.

This is equal to 13.2 million self-rated poor families in September and 12.5 million in June.

The SWS arrived at these estimates by applying the percentage of self-rated poor respondents to the Philippine Statistics Authority’s medium-population projections for 2023.

The 3-point rise in the nationwide self-rated poor figure between June and September was due to increases in all areas, especially in Mindanao, according to the pollster.

What should cause concern among policymakers is that self-rated poverty numbers increased despite the easing of unemployment and underemployment rate in August, and the wage hikes recently approved in parts of the country.

The SWS explained that based on past surveys, self-rated poverty is significantly affected by factors like the family’s experience of involuntary hunger, presence of jobless household members, and high inflation rate.

And another disturbing finding of the same survey is that 6.6 percent or 1.8 million families are “newly poor”, meaning they were not poor 1 to 4 years ago.

So what should be done to bring down poverty incidence in the country to 8.8 to 9 percent by 2028 from 18.1 percent in 2021?

For this, we need to consult experts. Economist Calixto Chikiamco attributed the higher number of self-rated poor Filipino families to high inflation, driven by the prices of food and fuel.

“Food represents abut half of expenditures of the average Filipino. So if food prices increase, you feel poorer because you can only buy so much from your income,” he was quoted in a news report, adding the survey results are an indication the country’s economic growth is not inclusive.

To help address poverty, he said, the government should increase agricultural productivity, bring down food prices, and improve public education.

“In agriculture, what’s needed is mechanization, the use of science, and technology to increase production. At the same time, we need to invest in human capital through education. That’s the route of people out of poverty,” Chikiamco said.

The Department of Labor and Employment and the Department of Social Welfare and Development should take a cue from the survey results to guide them in improving the implementation of poverty alleviation and social protection initiatives, such as the conditional cash transfer and food stamp programs.

Labor Secretary Bienvenido Laguesma suggested those who self-rated themselves as poor may have come mostly from the informal sector who did not obtain relief from wage increases and “had not seen their expectation of a better life realized.”

On the part of the DWSD, Assistant Secretary Romel Lopez said they respect the survey results and would use the data gathered from it to put in place appropriate programs to improve the quality of life of Filipinos.

As expected, the Makabayan bloc in Congress, led by House Deputy Minority Leader and ACT Teachers Party List Rep. France Castro, is pushing for junking the excise tax and value-added tax on fuel, and the passage of the proposed wealth tax on the country’s billionaires.

The lawmaker believes the latest SWS survey finding almost half of Filipino families or around 13.2 million families considering themselves poor is the result of the “anti-poor policies of the Marcos administration and its push for projects that will benefit the rich rather than the poor like the Maharlika Investment Fund.”

Be that as it may, the second Marcos administration must really work double-time if it really wants to bring down the poverty level in the country to single digit-level by 2028.

And that goal can only be achieved with serious efforts to curb corruption, focus on economic growth, and ensure the efficient delivery of social services like education and health to the disadvantaged and low-income sectors in society.

(Email: ernhil@yahoo.com)

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