Similar job markets in different worlds

By Eleni Antipas
January 18, 2011

A recent study found that underemployment trends in both the Philippines and the U.S. are strikingly similar.

A recent series of interviews finds a striking similarity between Filipinos’ and Americans’ options when entering the job market.

Richard Vedder, director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity on the Chronicle of Higher Education, stated 17 million college educated Americans are overqualified for their current jobs. Vedder suggests that Americans are opting for menial jobs because they pay better than occupations that require their college degrees.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) states that 20.3 percent of Americans are underemployed. This trend is also visible in the Philippines, where 19.6 percent of college educated people are underemployed, which is attributed to 60 percent of the available positions in the job market that do not require a college degree.

Along with the rates of underemployment being similar in both America and the Philippines, so are the industries people are choosing to work in.

According to the Business Insider, more than 482,000 college-educated Americans are customer service representatives and over 100,000 are housekeepers and custodians, five percent of whom have doctorates. Similarly, in the Philippines people are graduating from college and entering the service industry. Miguel Lamaca was sitting in the lobby of the Pennisula Hotel in Manilia waiting for his boss when he began discussing how he came to be a driver. Lamaca mentioned that he studied elementary education and claimed that teaching was his passion.

When Lamaca graduated from college he immediately accepted a position teaching first grade in a public school in Manila for 7,850 Philippine pesos (PHP) ($178.00) a month.

However, in 2001, around the time Lamaca’s first child was born, cutbacks were being made in the public school system in Manila and Lamaca was laid off.

“I saw an add in my church’s newsletter for a driving position for a local wealthy family. I needed a job to support my family. I told my wife I would become a driver. I convinced her and myself that I would be able to return to teaching in one year,” Lamaca said.

Currently, Lamaca has been driving for the Villanueva family for 10 years and has no plans to return to teaching. He earns 7,000 PHP ($158.00) a month plus bonus and overtime for extended trips and holidays. Although Lamaca took a monthly pay cut of 850 PHP ($19.00), his driving position allows him to earn money year round unlike teaching.

“The school year here is from June to March. Many of my friends that are still teaching say they are always looking for work during the summer because they need to have some type of income coming in. I do not envy them. I enjoy driving because it is a secure job and I do not have to worry about providing for my family,” Lamaca said.

Amy Chua was making dinner when she explained that she was originally from Palawan but moved to Manila to study nursing. After passing her board exams, Chua was unable to find a nursing position.

Currently,  Chua is also employed by the Villanueva family as a yaya, which is a title given to nannies in the Philippines. Chua’s responsibilities as a yaya include preparing meals, household chores and looking after the Villanueva’s youngest daughter Lisa. As a yaya Chua earns 5,000 PHP ($113.00) a month.

“I am grateful to have a job and the Villanueva’s are wonderful people, but I studied to be a nurse and I hope to be able to return to Palawan and practice nursing soon,” Chua said.

Elizabeth Reles is a family friend of the Villanueva family. She stopped by for lunch and shared her experience working as a registered nurse in a county hospital in Makati. As a nurse she could not make enough money to support her family. Reles was assigned to a minimum of 20 patients at a time and she was only making 7,000 PHP ($158.00) a month.

“I became a nurse because I heard it was easier to get a Visa to come to States. I want to move there with my family and work as a nurse,” Reles said.

After three years of working at the county hospital, Reles was still paying off her tuition while waiting for a Visa.

Six months ago Reles decided to take a job at the KGB call center ( The only requirement for the job was being fluent in English and the call center pays 2,000 PHP ($45.00) more a month than Reles was making as a nurse and receives generous benefits. They find working to alleviate poverty the most fulfilling part of their work.

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Eleni Antipas

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