MANILA - The Philippines is at a crossroads in terms of population policy, after it achieved its 2025 targets of lowering fertility rates two years earlier.
"We are seeing 2025 as a watershed year. We may have accelerated the demographic transition in this pandemic. That will make it easier for us to recover the fact that we have lower birth rates, but of course, our economy needs to improve," POPCOM Undersecretary Juan Antonio Perez III said on Friday.
The country's fertility rate is now at 2.5 births per woman, at par with its ASEAN neighbors such as Indonesia, Thailand, and Malaysia.
However, many areas outside of NCR still have high fertility rate.
Despite the financial burden of families now being lighter with fewer children to provide for, Perez said the "demographic dividend" can only be achieved when unmet needs are addressed, specifically by the next administration.
"There is an unmet need for housing, education, opportunities for young people, and specifically unmet needs for seniors [such as] their health and other services as they continue to grow," Perez said.
Demographic dividend refers to the economic growth experienced by a country as a result of a change in its population structure.
Perez adds that lower fertility rates do not necessarily mean the country's population will become older soon.
"I think the workforce will continue to be a young workforce probably until the 2040s and 2050s," he assured.
The Philippines' long period of high fertility rate ensured that the country's population will continue to be young for several years more with an average population age of 25 years old.
Of the entire population 63 percent are in the workforce.
However, economic growth is hampered by a large number of people who are unemployed, exacerbated by lockdowns due to the pandemic.
Meanwhile, those who have been able to retain their jobs through the pandemic should also be able to live off their salaries better for the country to experience the demographic dividend POPCOM aims for, Perez said.
"When people are working, they should be getting a minimum wage. Only NCR has a real living wage. The rest of the country, they are on a minimum wage regimen which make sit difficult for families to take advantage of the improving economy," Perez explained.
When the Philippines' population does begin to age at around 2035, Perez said that the country should be prepared with policies to look after the needs of an older population.
"They are facing the most costly health problems, they are also the ones with the least number of pensions, only 20% of seniors have a pension, many of them are poor," Perez said of seniors.
POPCOM is planning to conduct a survey on older persons to find out their needs and include them in new population policies.