The Devil in the Unemployment Details


Ahead of the coming Budget on February 17 and its industry-centric policies, MOM just released the unemployment figures. Unemployment in Singapore in 2011 fell to a 14-year old low rate of 2%. Breaking it down, unemployment figures were 1.9%, 2.1%, 2% and 2% in the first, second, third and last quarters of 2011 respectively.

For the general trend of unemployment figures as context, it was 3.1% in June 2011, down from a high of 4.5% in 2009 overall during the recession. In all fairness, the unemployment situation is alright currently.

While MOM did not say it outright, their message was an attempt to vindicate their foreign talent policy. In other words, although there are more foreigners injected into the economy, it does not automatically mean that locals lost their jobs as a result. Or does it?

Upon closer scrutiny of the feel good press statement, for 2011, there were signs of more locals unemployed than residents, which presumably means “foreigners”.

The details were that “the unemployment rate averaged 2% overall, 2.9% for residents and 3% for Singapore citizens. These rates were the lowest recorded in 14 years, after declining from 2.2% for overall, 3.1% for residents and 3.4% for Singapore citizens in 2010”. Again in context, from recession to recovery since 2008, the difference in unemployment rates between residents and citizens was never more than 0.3% points e.g. in second quarter 2010 when it was 3.1% vs 3.4%, although it was consistent that unemployment figures for citizens were always higher than that of residents.

In short, the right wing xenophobes are not wrong that maybe more citizens are unemployed compared to foreigners, but it is another thing to say foreigners stole the jobs. If job theft was the case, the difference between foreigner and citizen rates would be much wider, correct me if I’m wrong.

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