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For Filipino migrant workers, coronavirus dashes their ticket to a better life

The Washington Post, Philippines, 10 September 2020 - When the novel coronavirus upended lives and livelihoods around the world, it hit the poor especially hard. But the pandemic's effects also proved damaging for those vying for a foothold in the middle class, knocking them back down the economic ladder.

The repercussions are felt in places like the Philippines, the source of a vast migrant labor force that keeps industries ticking, from health care in the West to construction and domestic help in the Middle East. A steady income put many of these workers on their way to a better life, despite difficult conditions, allowing them to send money home or save for a deposit on a house, car or their children’s education.

More than 2 million Filipinos were employed as overseas workers in any given year over the decade preceding the pandemic; their remittances accounted for about 10 percent of the Philippines’ output.

But as the coronavirus savaged the world economy, many lost jobs abroad or were unable to take up positions because of travel restrictions. The government has set up an assistance program, offering cash payments of about $200 each to 280,000 migrant workers displaced by the pandemic at home and abroad, according to the Labor Department.

About 170,000 overseas workers have returned to the Philippines since February, official data show. In many cases, they find themselves just as vulnerable as when they were abroad — if not more so.

Now, returnees are recalibrating their lives, coming to terms with diminished earning power and prospects for their families.



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