One of the most peculiar things about our unemployment statistics is that it has always been released for the "resident" (PR+citizens) population so we don't know what the numbers are for Singaporeans. However, some light shed on 11 Oct 2011 when MoM finally released the numbers for citizens and here they are (extracted from the report "Singaporeans in the Workforce":
"Singaporeans have one of the highest employment rates internationally. The unemployment rate amongst citizens declined to 3.1% in June 2011, down from a high of 4.5% in 2009 during the recession."
"Singaporeans have one of the highest employment rates internationally. With nearly eight in ten (77%) Singaporeans aged 25 to 64 employed in 2010, our employment rate surpassed that in the other Asian NIEs and many advanced economies. This has occurred because, although our citizen labour force participation rate is not higher than in many advanced economies"
We have to be careful about unemployment rates because if the situation is so bad that people give up looking for a job, they do not go into the unemployment numbers. There are also various criteria used to count people considered unemployed so many people have no jobs but are not considered unemployed. For countries that give out unemployment benefits, there is more incentive for the unemployed to get themselves registered. In Singapore you probably can't get any financial help if you're unemployed so it is possible for you to go below the radar and the govt assumes you're in early retirement! When the mainstream media talk about unemployment in other countries we sometimes get the impression that Singapore is spectacularly better because we have unemployment of 3% and some European countries have unemployment of 14% so our situation here is much better - this however, is not the real picture.
The preferred number to look at for some economists is the employment rate and this too came out in the Oct 11 report. Our citizen employment rate is 77% of the employable population. 23% of the employable people are not working. How does this stack up?
When you look at employment rate, the situation in Singapore still looks good but the difference is smaller than if you look at unemployment rate. Now lets throw in another aspect to consider when looking at the numbers. Most if not all the countries in the table have minimum wages so people who have jobs in those countries found one that paid decent wages. We don't have minimum wages in Singapore. If we now minus those who don't make enough for a decent living from the 77% we end up with a number much smaller. There are 400,000 workers on workfare[Link] who are considered employed but earn less than $1700 (generally less than the minimum wage in developed countries)....you take that out from the 77% employment rate and you find we drop quite far down. I've often written that it is meaningless to look at employment without looking at wages - forcing a large segment of the populace into low wage jobs menial jobs can make our employment numbers look good but masks the structural unemployment and various problems faced by Singaporeans - the difficulty in finding jobs that pays decent wages is as high if not higher than in other countries.
For many years, the PAP govt has tried to paint a rosy picture to Singaporeans on employment when the real situation on the ground has deteriorated badly especially among older Singaporeans.