Middle Class Unemployment During Pandemic

Middle Class Unemployment During Pandemic

Ma. Luisa "Louie" P. Sebastianhttp://contributor
Ma. Luisa “Louie” Sebastian is Senior Adviser for Strategic Communications of Page One Group News/Media. She loves to write, dance, and watch movies. She is currently Vice President-Internal of the Public Relations Society of the Philippines.

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The struggle to stay employed at this time is real. More than 100 days of lockdown have forced many companies to either restructure or cease operations causing the loss of jobs for millions of Filipinos. OFWs are also forced to return home, thousands are seafarers, with no clue as to when they will board their ships again.

The pandemic crushed the livelihood of formerly stable families. The strong consumer demand from the growing middle class and robust remittances from OFWs are now gone.Based on the latest data from the Philippine Statistics Authority, joblessness hiked to 17.7 percent in April, the highest-ever unemployment rate recorded in the country. At least 7.3 million Filipinos had no jobs in April due to a long and strict lockdown that caused economic shutdown.

Most jobs lost were in the arts, entertainment, recreation, information, communication, construction sectors as well as food and hotel industries.

Grim reality

In one of my columns last May, I shared the stories of my OFW cousins who are now grappling with their daily survival after forced repatriation due to the pandemic. They have already cashed-in some mutual fund investments even at a loss, took out loans from SSS and Pag-Ibig, pawned jewelries, or shifted to selling fruits and vegetables to make ends meet.
Last month, that grim reality experienced by many unemployed OFWs transcended to locally employed middle class professionals.

Connie was an Administrative/Human Resource Officer of a prominent print media publication for more than 20 years before it closed shop last month. Their work was absorbed by the mother company so all employees were retrenched. The decision to stop printing hard copies of the newspaper and shift to digital platform was so sudden and unexpected. She received a notice of termination of employment on the same day that her company’s operation stopped.
What makes Connie’s situation more difficult is that she only received a separation pay worth one month of her salary. Although she has savings, Connie is afraid that it will take time for her to land a job. At 47, she is worried that her age would put her at a disadvantage when she job hunts soon.

Almira is a Safety/Wellness Officer of a multinational firm. Highly-credentialed with a Masters Degree in Industrial Engineering and relatively young at 31, Almira was selected as one of the employees to avail of the company’s voluntary separation program. Compared to another Safety/Wellness Officer, Almira has limited experience and lacks some mandatory government credentials. Hence, when the company restructured last month to downsize, the competition to be retained was stiff.

Unlike Connie’s case, Almira’s separation package is good with one month worth of salary for every year of service and an additional one month free of tax. Her HMO coverage would be good for another year. Her employment will run until end of August so she also has time to look for a new job.

These days, news about retrenchment or lay-offs are common. The Bank of Philippine Islands let go of 428 probationary employees while a significant number of regular employees aged 50 and older were offered a special retirement package. Cebu Pacific had to layoff over 150 newly-hired cabin crew members because of limited flights. Okada Casino Resort Hotel also retrenched 1,000 employees to maintain viability during this pandemic.
Some are more fortunate than Connie, Almira and the thousands of jobless employees now because they still have work even if their companies had to do some financial adjustments as well.

My friend Robert who works for a bank said their executives were forced to accept a twenty percent pay cut. Another friend Glen employed with a food chain said their annual merit increase usually given every April was put on hold. Hazel’s variable or performance-based pay with a multinational firm was not granted this year.

Can the middle class survive this economic crisis?

Silver lining

As the government eases lockdown measures, the economy is also slowly jumpstarting. Some of my middle-class friends who are employed in high-end beauty-and-personal-care industry have resumed work. Although their clients are limited, they are still grateful to be back at work.

My brother-in-law whose construction business ceased operation during the lockdown studied the foreign currency market trading. He recently returned to his business but retained his newly found income opportunity.

My friend Trina was a film executive producer prior to the lockdown. Today, her online food business selling meat, poultry and vegetables is doing good. She is now thinking of retiring from the film industry and concentrating on her business. Her creativity is working well for her. She marinated her unsold meat which she now sells by tub. The products taste so good that she now has resellers outside of Quezon City.

Me and my husband also experienced some sleepless nights when his company reorganized last month. As my family’s primary breadwinner, his loss of job would significantly impact on our finances. But instead of sulking in one corner, we laid out a plan. He was ready to join his brother in the foreign currency market trading while I look for a full-time job. But God is good. My husband will continue working for his company while I am set to start with my full-time work in August.

Filipinos are known survivors. Middle class has shown time and again that its stability is a product of self-reliance, resilience and drive. This crisis shall soon pass.

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