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Pandemic erased over 9 million jobs in Southeast Asia, ADB says

The number of jobless Filipinos increased to 4.187 million in February from 3.953 million in January, based on latest official data. — Photo by Michael Varcas, The Philippine Star

The coronavirus pandemic obliterated 9.3 million jobs in Southeast Asia as lockdowns hit the region’s traditional engines of growth such as hospitality and tourism, according to the Asian Development Bank.

This pushed 4.7 million people to extreme poverty last year, measured as living on less that $1.90 a day, the ADB said in a report Wednesday. Inequality also widened as movement restrictions hit hardest the retail and informal sectors, where women, young people and unskilled workers are typically employed.

“The pandemic’s impact on poverty and unemployment will likely persist as inactive workers become de-skilled and poor people’s access to opportunities further deteriorates,” the ADB said. “When this happens, the deterioration in inequality could transfer across generations.”

Green shoots are emerging though, with close to 60% of Southeast Asia’s population vaccinated and public mobility rebounding. Gross domestic product is expected to grow 5.1% this year, though the omicron wave could slash this by as much as 0.8 percentage points.

Equipping small businesses with digital tools and providing skills training for displaced workers will ensure they’re not left behind in the “new normal” of work, the ADB said. Increasing health spending to 5% of GDP, from 3% in 2021, will also improve disease surveillance and add 1.5 percentage points to growth. — Bloomberg

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