COVID-19: Asia-Pacific region lost 8% of working hours in 2020, says report

The pandemic pushed 75-80 million people in developing Asia-Pacific region into extreme poverty in 2020

By Madhumita Paul
Published: Wednesday 25 August 2021

As unemployment rates increased by at least 20 per cent in 2020 due to the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic across the globe, the Asia-Pacific region lost an estimated 8 per cent of working hours, according to a report by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) released August 24, 2021.

As businesses were disrupted, many workers lost their jobs, leading to higher unemployment and underemployment rates, the report said.

Data collected from the ADB Institute surveys in 2020 showed that a significant number of households engaged in business were severely affected by the pandemic.

Among households engaged in agriculture or relying on wages and salary, more than half reported an increase in income, no change or a decrease of less than 26 per cent.

More than two out of five households in both categories reported reduced incomes by more than 25 per cent, likely stemming from reduced working hours, according to the report.

The Asia-Pacific region lost about 8 per cent of work hours due to mobility restrictions, deeply affecting poorer households and workers in the informal economy.

The ADB Institute in 2020 conducted household surveys across several economies that are members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. The survey results revealed that the proportion of households wherein at least one member lost a job or whose working hours reduced were significantly poor.

The pandemic is threatening Asia-Pacific’s progress toward critical targets under the United Nations-mandated Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), the report warned.

The report titled Key Indicators for Asia and the Pacific 2021 demonstrated that the region made substantial progress in the last two decades with respect to several development targets.

Key indicators present comprehensive economic, financial, social and environmental statistics for ADB’s 49 regional members. The pandemic pushed 75-80 million people in developing Asia-Pacific into extreme poverty in 2020, the report said.

About 203 million people — 5.2 per cent of developing Asia’s population — lived in extreme poverty as of 2017. Without COVID-19, that number would have declined to an estimated 2.6 per cent in 2020.

Assuming that the pandemic increased inequality, the relative rise in extreme poverty — defined as living on less than $1.90 (Rs 141) a day, may be even greater, the report warned.

Other findings of the report were:

  • From 2019 to 2020, labour force participation rates among women, on average, declined by 1.4 per cent, while labour force participation rates among men declined by 0.8 per cent
  • 71 per cent of Asia-Pacific’s workforce is now in non-agricultural employment. From 2000-2019, the region’s non-agricultural employment rate grew to 71 per cent from 52 per cent, one of the fastest growth rates worldwide
  • Low-skilled people and those living in rural areas still face greater poverty risk
  • Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Asia-Pacific had been experiencing steady progress in several SDG III health targets, particularly on maternal and child mortality
  • The prevalence of undernourishment decreased from more than 521 million people in 2001 to 316 million in 2019
  • Almost all learners in the region were affected by closure of schools during the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Despite efforts to continue school activities through remote learning, poorer students suffered greater disruption to their education during the pandemic

Achieving the SDG of the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development will require mobilising increasing levels of public revenue. Revenue Statistics in Asia and the Pacific presents key indicators to track progress on domestic resource mobilisation and to inform tax policy and reform that could help fill the financing gap to fund the SDGs.

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