Country Listing

Philippines Table of Contents


Extent of Poverty

Individuals are said to be in absolute poverty when they are unable to obtain at least a specified minimum of the food, clothing, and shelter that are considered necessary for continued survival. In the Philippines, two such minimums have been established. The poverty line is defined in terms of a least-cost consumption basket of food that provides 2,016 calories and 50 grams of protein per day and of nonfood items consumed by families in the lowest quintile of the population. In 1988 the poverty line for a family of six was estimated to be P2,709 per month. The subsistence level is defined as the income level that allows purchase of the minimum food requirements only.

In 1985 slightly more than half the population lived below the poverty line, about the same proportion as in 1971. The proportion of the population below the subsistence level, however, declined from approximately 35 percent in 1971 to 28 percent in 1985. The economic turndown in the early 1980s and the economic and political crisis of 1983 had a devastating impact on living standards.

The countryside contained a disproportionate share of the poor. For example, more than 80 percent of the poorest 30 percent of families in the Philippines lived in rural areas in the mid-1980s. The majority were tenant farmers or landless agricultural workers. The landless, fishermen, and forestry workers were found to be the poorest of the poor. In some rural regions--the sugar-growing region on the island of Negros being the most egregious example--there was a period in which malnutrition and famine had been widespread.

Urban areas also were hard hit, with the incidence of urban poverty increasing between 1971 and 1985 by 13 percentage points to include half the urban population. The urban poor generally lived in crowded slum areas, often on land or in buildings without permission of the owner; hence, they were referred to as squatters (see Urban Social Patterns , ch. 2). These settlements often lacked basic necessities such as running water, sewerage, and electricity. According to a 1984 government study, 44 percent of all occupied dwellings in Metro Manila had less than thirty square meters of living area, and the average monthly expenditure of an urban poor family was P1,315. Of this, 62 percent was spent on food and another 9 percent on transportation, whereas only P57 was spent on rent or mortgage payments, no doubt because of the extent of squatting by poor families. About 55 percent of the poor surveyed who were in the labor force worked in the informal sector, generally as vendors or street hawkers. Other activities included service and repair work, construction, transport services, or petty production. Women and children under fifteen years of age constituted almost 60 percent of those employed. The majority of the individuals surveyed possessed a high school education, and 30 percent had a skill such as dressmaking, electrical repair, plumbing, or carpentry. Nevertheless, they were unable to secure permanent, full-time positions.

Data as of June 1991