SINGAPORE: Helped by efforts to raise the employability of older workers, the employment rate of Singapore citizens rose from 60 per cent in June 2009 to 63.6 per cent in June 2019.
Singaporeans also experienced income growth over the same period, while more were working as professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs), according to an occasional paper released by the Manpower Research and Statistics Department on Thursday (Jan 23) which tracked the employment outcomes of Singapore citizens over the last decade.
The rise in the citizen employment rate was led by workers aged 65 and above, said the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), reflecting efforts to raise the employability of these older workers.
The employment rate of those in this age group rose from 16.4 per cent in 2009 to 27.4 per cent in 2019.
For those aged between 25 to 64 years old, the employment rate for Singapore citizens rose from 75.6 per cent to 80.5 per cent over the same period. Growth in the employment rate was faster in the earlier part of the decade and has since slowed as more in this age group became older, MOM said.
Among those between the ages of 15 and 24, the employment rate declined in recent years as more were engaged in further studies, the paper added.
By occupation, the number and share of PMETs among employed Singapore citizens have increased steadily from 742,800 in June 2009 to 1,050,300 in June 2019, translating into a rise from 47 per cent to 56 per cent.
Singaporeans also enjoyed higher incomes, with the pace of income growth faster in the recent five years.
From 2014 to 2019, the real median income growth for full-time employed Singapore citizens was at 3.9 per cent per annum. This is faster than the 2.1 per cent per annum growth seen between 2009 and 2014.
Those in the bottom 20 per cent income group also saw their real income growth pick up faster from 2014 to 2019 – at 4.6 per cent per annum, compared to the 1.5 per cent per annum in the earlier five years of the decade.
This was helped by collective policy measures, such as the Progressive Wage Model and Wage Credit, said the MOM paper.
Among Singapore citizens, the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate has been “broadly stable” at an average of 3.1 per cent from June 2010 to June 2019, said MOM.
The unemployment rate refers to those unemployed as a proportion of the labour force. It excludes those who are not seeking work or are unavailable to work, such as students, homemakers and retirees.
According to the study, the unemployment rate for citizens across most age groups were lower than average, except for those aged below 30 which stood at 6.2 per cent.
This boils down to the job search among younger citizens, who are new entrants to the labour market or are in the early stages of their career and exploring different career options, MOM said.
On the other hand, while older citizens aged 50 and above may be seeing below-average unemployment rate, they tend to stay unemployed longer. The median duration of unemployment for this age group was 12 weeks in June 2019, compared to 8 weeks for all unemployed citizens.
By education, those with non-tertiary and diploma and professional qualifications saw above-average unemployment rates, MOM's paper noted. This is due to a higher share of younger citizens in these education groups.
The number of discouraged workers, defined as individuals who are not in the labour force because they believe that their job search would not yield results, also has been “broadly stable” for the most part of the decade, said MOM.
It has declined in the past three years to 6,700 in June 2019, making up just 0.3 per cent of the citizen labour force.
Overall, “employment outcomes of Singapore citizens have been positive over the decade”, MOM said.
In response to the paper, National Trades Union Congress assistant secretary-general Patrick Tay wrote in a Facebook post that it is important to continue helping mature workers, PMETs, as well as focus on re-skilling and up-skilling workers.
Both employers and employees will need to be ready with in-demand skills so as to stay relevant to the new jobs created and resilient amid the peaks and troughs of the economy, he said.
RESIDENT LABOUR MARKET DATA
The occasional paper also included labour data of the resident population, which refers to both Singapore citizens and Permanent Residents (PRs).
Singapore citizens consistently form the majority – about 85 per cent – of the resident labour force. The population of PRs has also remained stable over time at about 0.5 million, MOM said.
Given these two factors, the labour market trends of Singapore citizens “track closely” to those of resident data, it added.
Graphs included in the MOM paper showed employment and unemployment rates, as well as income growth, of Singapore citizens mirroring the trends of the resident data.
For instance, the employment rate of residents rose from 61.6 per cent in 2009 to 65.2 per cent in 2019, remaining within 1.4 to 1.7 percentage points above the employment rate of citizens.
MOM noted that the employment rates of citizens and residents for those aged 25 to 64 may see "some divergence over time" as more citizens grow older in an ageing population and older cohorts typically have lower employment rates.
The share of PMETs among residents also rose from 51.4 per cent to 58.3 per cent over the last decade, hovering between 2.5 and 4 percentage points above the upward trajectory among citizens.
The paper also noted that the unemployment rate for Singapore citizens stood at 3.2 per cent in June 2019, slightly higher than the 3.1 per cent for all residents.
But this is to be expected, said MOM, noting that the resident unemployment rate is “typically lower because PRs typically have to demonstrate a high degree of employability before being granted permanent residency”.
In the preface of its occasional paper, MOM wrote that its labour market statistics and papers have been based on the resident population since 2006. Prior to that, it focused on the overall population.
The change was done amid growth in the foreign population, which made it relevant “to consider not just Singapore’s total population but also the country’s resident population”.
“A further refinement to move away from resident data and release only Singapore citizen data was not made because there was little value from a statistical standpoint to do so,” it added.
“For the most part, resident data mirrors citizen data, and having citizen data in addition to resident data provides little additional information.”
READ: Balanced approach to foreign workers needed to ensure continued creation of good jobs for Singaporeans: Chan Chun Sing
But MOM said that it periodically releases a review of the labour market outcome of Singapore citizens. It did so in a short report in 2008 before releasing a fuller occasional paper in 2011.
Thursday’s occasional paper follows up from the 2011 report, although it was supposed to be released next year.
The topic of the breakdown of jobs among Singaporeans, PRs and foreigners has been in the spotlight since Workers’ Party chief Pritam Singh raised a question on it in Parliament earlier this month.
Last week, Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing said of nearly 60,000 new jobs created for the local workforce between 2015 and 2018, about 50,000 went to Singaporeans and more than 9,000 went to PRs.
The figures work out to about five Singaporeans to one PR, which is close to the local workforce ratio of six Singaporeans to one PR, he said.
In a Facebook post on Thursday, Manpower Minister Josephine Teo wrote: “Recently, there has been heightened interest about data that the Government releases.
“You may ask why we don’t usually break down resident data further into Singapore citizens and PRs? There is no sinister reason.”
Mrs Teo said internationally, statistical agencies cover the entire population residing in their country without a breakdown by nationality.
This is to ensure comprehensive data coverage so that analyses and comparison are accurate and meaningful, she added.
Referring to Thursday’s occasional paper, she said the employment outcomes of Singapore citizens have been positive over the last decade.
With citizens making up a large majority of the resident labour force and the PR population being relatively small and stable, Mrs Teo said: “As a result, citizen data and resident data track each other very closely.”
“In other words, the PR population does not have significant impact on trends and presenting more data sets all the time – resident, citizen, PR - provide little additional information.”
It is, nonetheless, useful to take a closer look at citizen data in a holistic way over longer time periods, which is the purpose of such occasional papers, she added.
"I am confident that Singaporeans, being rational and reasonable, will understand this approach to statistical reporting and not fall prey to attempts to sow distrust between Government and the people through suspicious lines of questioning that see shadows where there are none," said Mrs Teo.