Roughly 35,000 people who worked in September 2019 were unemployed in September 2020, a number that could rise amid the number of discouraged individuals who are not actively seeking jobs, argued economist Santos Negrón in light of the most recent statistics offered by the Puerto Rico Department of Labor & Human Resources (DTRH).
According to the data, the estimated unadjusted employment in September 2020 was 954,000 people. Compared to the number reported in August 2020 (952,000), there was an increase of 2,000 people.
However, when compared to September 2019 (989,000), the total of employed workers dropped by 35,000. Of those who continue working, 55.8 percent have a college degree; 30.2 percent made up of professionals, executives, and managers; followed closely -with 26 percent- by technicians, salespeople, and administrative support personnel.
Regarding unemployment, the seasonally adjusted figure in September 2020 was 87,000 people. This figure represents an increase of 1,000 people compared to August 2020 (86,000), and 2,000 more compared to September 2019 (85,000), standing at 8.4 percent.
For Negrón, although the figure seems low, if it is compared with years like 2016 and 2017 -which reached double digits- it is not a correct perception. He explained that to be unemployed the person has to be looking for work.
"If I am not looking for work, I am outside the working group and I am not counted as unemployed. Our reality is that there are many people who, given the low possibility of finding a job, have become discouraged and have stopped looking for work, so they have not been counted as unemployed," Negrón said.
He added that it would be positive if the numbers were lower, and there were enough jobs to re-incentivize job search. "The current data are altered by the general condition that exists, but they are real numbers that do not reflect an economic improvement in the country."
He also explained that for Puerto Rico to reflect economic recovery, employment must rise as well as the participation rate, which, according to the DTRH data, stood at 40.7 percent in September, while unemployment must fall.
According to data from the agency, 41.1 percent of unemployed people involuntarily terminated their employment. 27.5 percent indicated "other reasons," a category that mainly groups unemployed people due to COVID-19. Added to them are people who completed a temporary job (11.0 percent) and those who were temporarily suspended and are waiting to be called (9.3 percent).
The data by age groups reflected that the segment aged 35 to 44 had the highest level of labor participation (75.3 percent) among the economically active population in September 2020. By gender, the labor participation rate registered by men for this September it was 48.6 percent compared to 33.8 percent for women.
Regarding the participation rate, for September 2020 it was 40.7 percent. This figure represents an increase of 0.1 percentage point when compared to August 2020 (40.6 percent), and an increase of 0.2 percentage points more, in relation to September 2019 (40.5 percent). For the economist Heidi Calero, this data is worrying and critical, since it is a very low figure that shows that the population of working age is disheartened and does not see job opportunities.
"COVID-19 has had and will have a devastating effect for SMEs (small and midsize businesses) and also for large banks. Many have already left several unemployed and although they seek to reestablish their operations they are finding it very difficult," she stated.
Calero indicated that, although the economy is becoming more flexible, there are still not many sources of employment, the billions of dollars promised for the reconstruction of the island are not arriving, nor is the arrival of more federal funds for economic stimulus to stop the economic decline and incentivize employment.
"The pandemic is with us. It does not rest, does not take days off and is on the lookout at all times," she said.
DTRH Secretary Carlos Rivera Santiago could not be reached to comment.