Employment rate for Singaporeans rose over last decade, mirrors trend for resident population: MOM

The employment rate of citizens rose to 63.6 per cent last year, up from 60 per cent in 2009. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

SINGAPORE - The employment rate of Singapore citizens has risen over the past decade, as has the share of professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) among working Singaporeans.

Their median real income also grew faster compared with the total resident workforce - which includes permanent residents - while citizen unemployment remained low.

As Singapore citizens consistently make up about 85 per cent of the resident labour force, their trends track closely to those of resident data, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) noted on Thursday (Jan 23).

There were 2.33 million residents in the labour force as of June 2019, comprising 1.97 million Singaporeans and 360,000 PRs.

These figures were released by the MOM in an occasional paper on citizens in the labour force with data from June 2009 to June 2019. The ministry noted that employment outcomes for citizens may be slightly lower than those of the wider resident population because people usually have to show good employability in order to be granted permanent residency.

The report said that the employment rate of citizens rose to 63.6 per cent last year, up from 60 per cent in 2009, driven most consistently by older workers aged 65 and up.

The rate for residents remained within 1.4 to 1.7 percentage points higher over the decade, rising to 65.2 per cent last year, from 61.6 per cent in 2009.

Also, the employment rates for working age citizens - aged 25 to 64 - climbed in the same period to 80.5 per cent, up from 75.6 per cent.

The rate for working age residents was between zero and 0.3 percentage points higher over the period.

The MOM noted that the employment rates of citizens and residents may diverge over time, as more citizens will become older due to the ageing population, and older cohorts typically have lower employment rates. About 27 per cent of working age citizens are in the 55 to 64 age group compared with 10 per cent of working age PRs.

Among employed Singaporeans, the share of PMETs climbed to 55.8 per cent last year, up from 47.4 per cent a decade earlier. For residents, the share last year was 58.3 per cent, up from 51.4 per cent.

The issue of whether Singaporean citizens have access to good jobs has come to the fore in recent months, with questions raised on the matter in Parliament earlier this month.

Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing said in an interview last week that about 83 per cent of the 60,000 new jobs created for the local workforce between 2015 and 2018 went to Singaporeans, and the rest to PRs.

He noted that the Singaporean workforce is made up of a wider group of workers aged from 20 to more than 60 years old, while the PRs who come in are pre-selected and are those with "strong job opportunities".

The MOM last released an occasional paper on citizens in the labour force in 2011 with data for the full decade to 2010. The next release was planned for next year to take in the full decade to 2020, but was brought forward.

Manpower Minister Josephine Teo said in a Facebook post on Thursday after the occasional paper was released that "there is no sinister reason" as to why data on residents is not broken down into citizens and PRs.

"Internationally, statistical agencies cover the entire population residing in their country without a breakdown by nationality. The aim is comprehensive data coverage, so that analyses and comparison are accurate and meaningful," she said.

Also, Singapore citizens make up a large majority of the resident labour force, and the PR population is relatively small and has remained stable over time.

"The PR population does not have significant impact on trends and presenting more data sets all the time - resident, citizen, PR - provides little additional information," said Mrs Teo.

"Nonetheless, over longer time periods, it is useful to take a closer look at citizen data in a holistic way, which is the purpose of such occasional papers."

Mrs Teo 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." She used a Chinese idiom bei gong she ying, which means to be overly suspicious, to emphasise that point.

In its report, MOM said it has been focusing on data for Singapore residents since 2006 to facilitate comparisons with data from other countries which typically cover the resident populations. It had focused on the overall population before 2006 but decided to carve out the resident data as the foreign population grew.

"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, as our indicators would lose coverage without gaining additional perspective," said the report.

An MOM spokesman said at a media briefing on Thursday that the ministry's surveys do not track when Singaporean respondents became citizens.

Income growth has been rising faster for citizens

Citizens fared slightly better than the overall resident population when it came to income growth for full-time workers. Real median income growth was 3.9 per cent per year, on average, between June 2014 and June 2019. These are preliminary figures after accounting for inflation, for gross monthly income including employer contributions to the Central Provident Fund (CPF).

The growth was slightly faster than the real median income growth of 3.8 per cent for residents over those five years.

At the 20th percentile, real income growth for citizens averaged 4.6 per cent per year, compared with 4.4 per cent for residents.

The income growth at both the median and 20th percentile was faster in the recent five years than in the preceding five years.

The average Singaporean enjoyed steady income growth over the past decade, with median income rising to $4,333 last year, including employer CPF contributions. For residents, the median income last year was $4,563.

Citizen unemployment rate stable, fewer discouraged workers

In 2019, the citizen unemployment rate was 3.2 per cent - in line with the 3.1 per cent average from 2010 to 2019.

This is usually 0.1 to 0.2 percentage points higher than the resident unemployment rate, as PRs must demonstrate strong employability in the first place, said the report.

Those with non-tertiary and diploma and professional qualifications also had above-average unemployment rates of 3.7 and 4.1 per cent respectively, pulled up by the higher share of younger citizens in these education groups.

Broken down by age group, the under-30s had the highest rate of unemployment (6.2 per cent), reflecting their recent entry into the job market and greater churn in job search. But they took about one month on average to find a job, compared with two months for all unemployed citizens.

Those aged 50 and over took about three months on average to secure an offer, even though they are less likely to be unemployed.

Discouraged citizens - those no longer looking for work, as they think they will not succeed in their search - have continued to decline. Numbering 6,700 in 2019, they make up just 0.3 per cent of the citizen labour force.

Fewer retrenchments

The number of retrenched Singapore citizens declined from 2016 to 2018 after two consecutive years of increase, mirroring the trend for residents.

After adjusting for a rise in the number of employees from 2012 to 2018, the incidence of retrenched citizens (5.0 retrenched per 1,000 citizen employees) was also lower than in 2012 (5.3 per 1,000).

Not all retrenched persons become unemployed, as some will re-enter employment or decide to leave the labour force, explained the Manpower Ministry.

Retrenched persons are classified as unemployed only if they have not found a new job and are actively seeking and available for work.

National Trades Union Congress assistant secretary-general Patrick Tay said in a Facebook post that based on the profile of workers who are unemployed, retrenched, long-term unemployed and discouraged from working, it is important to continue to help mature workers and PMETs, as well as focus on re-skilling and up-skilling especially for vulnerable workers.

Remote video URL

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.