When things were getting better, we are virtually shocked by bad news on the health and economic fronts.
"The real test is not whether you avoid this failure, because you won’t. It’s whether you let it harden or shame you into inaction, or whether you learn from it; whether you choose to persevere.” -Barack Obama.
The quote mentioned above from former US President Obama tells us to learn from experience and not resort to inaction. We may have made the equivalent of two steps, but this idiomatic expression tells us that even if we take one step backward, we can continue to move on and make headway in this battle to defeat the ill-effects of the raging pandemic.
To digress a bit, here is a backgrounder on the title of today’s column.
“Two steps forward one step” back is a catchphrase about an anecdote featuring a frog trying to climb out of a water well; for every two steps the frog climbs, it falls back by one step, making its progress arduous.
When applied to the current pandemic, this means that the road ahead will be challenging to traverse. Consider the trends described below.
On the economic front, the Philippine Statistics Authority reported that unemployment has worsened with 4.2 million Filipinos jobless in February this year due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic,
This 8.8% unemployment rate is slightly higher than 8.7% or 4 million recorded jobless in January.
The survey also showed that 1.5% of the employed Filipinos were unable to go to work due to lockdown restrictions last month, a bit higher than January's 0.5%.
The top reasons cited for work interruptions during this period were their work nature, reduction in clients, stricter lockdown rules, and medical limitations.
In banking, lending was again low in February. Banks are cautious about extending credit when there is a high risk of not getting paid back.
According to the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, loans disbursed by big banks slowed down for the third straight month mainly due to the lack of demand from borrowers due to uncertainties brought about by the pandemic.
Loans extended by universal and commercial banks declined by 2.7 percent in February.
Nicholas Mapa, an economist at ING Philippines, said in a research note that as the renewed lockdowns weigh on the economy and consumer sentiment, it is possible that the government credit rating will decline as the government runs the second month of budget deficits.
“Consumption, the main growth engine, is sidelined and will likely be so in the near term as accelerating inflation complicates an already challenging job market situation. Unemployment remains at elevated levels, increasing actually even as authorities prodded citizens to hit the malls and staycation like they used to,” Mapa said.
“The economy is definitely headed for a lower growth path," he added.
As mentioned in this column last week, the coronavirus pandemic has worsened long-standing inequalities around the world.
If governments do not adequately address this problem, it could undermine economic stability and lead to unrest, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) warned in a report.
The worsening situation has hit most impoverished families particularly hard, and the damage to education could last for years, the IMF said in a report.
The findings show that the warnings from economists sounded last year are becoming real.
"COVID-19 has exposed and exacerbated preexisting inequalities in incomes and access to basic public services, such as health care and vaccination, both within and across countries," the report added.
"Disruptions to education threaten social mobility by leaving long-lasting effects on children and youth, especially those from poorer households."
Increasing reliance on digital work and schooling worsens the impact, making it harder for low-skilled workers to find jobs.
"Against this backdrop, societies may experience rising polarization, erosion of trust in government, or social unrest," the IMF said.
Some economists believe that "if governments increased spending on education by one percent of GDP, for example, they could reduce the gap in enrollment rates between the richest and the poorest families by almost one-third”.
Despite these disappointing and gloomy forecasts, the country must move on even if it takes a step backward after making two steps forward. Here is a quote from the famous and popular actor Denzel Washington: Nothing in life is worthwhile unless you take risks. Fall forward. Every failed experiment is one step closer to success.