Recession and unemployment in the digital age

By now most businesses and employees have already shifted their processes online: how one communicates, sells, closes and delivers goods and services are, more or less, done digitally now with minimal or no manual intervention required.

There are two key things we need to consider when it comes to what is happening in the country as of late. First is that the country is now in a recession, and second is that 45 percent of the Filipino working population is now unemployed and will have to look for other sources of income. Statistics from December 2019 show that 9 million Filipinos are unemployed; nine months later, that number has ballooned to 27 million.

How does this impact us? And what opportunities are available to those who lost their jobs?

A country is in a recession if its gross domestic product has shrunk for two consecutive quarters; our economy contracted by 0.7 percent in the first and by 16.5 percent in the second, the lowest since 1981. A Reuters article says the economy would only rebound by 2021 or 2022, at best. This means many things to you and me, but generally this could be a period when opportunities can emerge, especially now we have digital avenues to take advantage of.

How can digital help address this? If the Covid-19 pandemic paved the way for companies to digitize or make their pivot to digital quicker, it would also force all of us to become entrepreneurs, online sellers, home bakers, voice coaches and what not, anything to survive it. I wrote previously on how bartering is becoming a truly sustainable way of trading, and one person I met through a bartering platform came from the music industry.

She said most of the singers and musicians in her field are out of work now and resorting to selling online. She herself has transitioned to being an online voice coach, teaching children on the internet how to sing. Believe me, Filipinos will thrive in selling. Not only do we have the personality and character for that, the fact all of us are also mostly online now only means we can and should be able to manage this transition in the meantime. I always say that if people can have time to scroll through Facebook feeds for most of the day, then by no means is it difficult to start monetizing this access.

The government may extend ayuda because it needs to, but I do not believe it is a sustainable way to alleviate the plight of our fellow citizens in the long run. While the ayuda is welcome, it is still so much more important to step back and think of opportunities and areas where we can add revenue streams. A professor in one of the events we joined in the early days of the lockdown encouraged those wanting to be entrepreneurial to “look for opportunities that allow you to recreate and repurpose, among other things,” and to ensure that “it addresses things that are of value to the people.” At this point, we all know what is essential: food, streamlined financial services, logistics, etc. Many opportunities are ever present in these fields.

At the same time, it is also wise to be frugal and smart in conserving our resources. I always speak about sustainability and how, in my case, the teachings of Maria Orosa came in handy, food-wise; and also how community commerce through bartering enables us to dispose things we do not need anymore and save us orders from groceries. If we cannot think of other ways to earn, we should, at the very least, work out conservation plans to reduce unnecessary spending while we endure the pandemic and recession.


Kay Calpo Lugtu is the chief operating officer of Hungry Workhorse, a digital and culture transformation firm. Her advocacies include nation-building, sustainability education and financial literacy. The author may be reached at