On 3 December 2020, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) Labour Force In Singapore Advance Release 2020 was published. In previous years, this report detailed long-term structural employment trends, such as employment rate and income growth.
However, since the report was conducted during Circuit Breaker this year, the focus was shifted to the impacts of COVID-19 on the different segments of the labour force.
While Singapore’s labour force participation rates remained robust at 68.1% (compared to 68.0% in 2019), we read through the report to find 10 of the biggest impacts COVID-19 has had on Singapore workers.
#1 Median Income In Singapore Fall To $4,534 In 2020
After rising for consecutive years between 2004 to 2019, median income fell 0.6% in 2020 to $4,534. This amount includes the employer CPF contribution and employee CPF contribution.
For lower income group, the decline was even steeper with those in the 20th percentile of full-time employed residents experiencing a decline of 4.8% in their income to $2,340 in 2020 (from $2,457 in 2019). Again, this is because lower-income workers tended to work in industries that were more severely affected by COVID-19.
Nevertheless, between 2015 and 2020, income growth for full-timers at the 20th percentile grew at a faster pace than the median income – 2.9% per annum, compared to 2.7% per annum in median income growth.
#2 Males Were More Likely To Lose Their Jobs Because Of COVID-19
Among female residents aged 25 to 64, employment rate remained fairly consistent throughout COVID-19, dipping marginally from 73.3% to 73.2%. On the other hand, male residents aged 25 to 64 saw employment rate fall from 88.8%% to 87.9% – a 0.9%-point decline – the lowest since 2004.
#3 Employment Rate For Those 65 & Over Actually Increased Despite COVID-19
Despite the economic crash caused by COVID-19, the employment rate for seniors aged 65 and over continued its upward trend since 2003, to 28.5% (from 27.6% in 2019). This likely reflected several trends:
a) seniors continue to be healthier to work longer;
b) employers are seeing more value in older workers;
c) Singapore’s sustained efforts to increase the employability of this age group is paying off; and
d) higher demand for essential services such as cleaning and security contributed to the increase in senior employment rates.
#4 Youth Employment Rates Went The Other Way – Declining 8.8%
While the employment rate for seniors improved, youths aged 15 to 24 experienced the largest drop in employment rate across all age groups. This is because youths tend to work in sectors adversely impacted by COVID-19 – including Food & Beverage, administrative support and retail trade.
Another reason was also that more youths stayed out of the workforce in 2020 to pursue education. This could be a good time to pursue higher studies as the job market remains weak and the opportunity cost of not landing a job may be lower.
#5 Non-PMETs Were More Greatly Affected
In 2020, Professionals, Managers, Executives & Technicians (PMETs) comprised 59.9% of Singapore’s workforce – the highest proportion on record.
This was likely because sectors which hired the most PMETs – such as Information & Communications, Financial & Insurance Services and Professional Services – were less affected, and perhaps even helped, by the COVID-19 pandemic.
At the opposite end, sectors which hired the most non-PMETs were also some of the hardest hit by COVID-19 – including Wholesale Trade, Retail Trade, Accommodation and Food & Beverage Services.
Non-PMET unemployment rose sharply to 6.4% in 2020 (from 4.7% in 2019), while PMET unemployment rose to 3.5% in 2020 (from 2.9% in 2019).
Non-PMETs were also more likely affected by time-related under-employment, with 6.6% being under-employed in June 2020 (compared to 4.7% in June 2019). Only 2.5% of PMETs experienced under-employment in June 2020 (compared to 2.0% in June 2019).
#6 Non-PMET Roles Opened In Sectors That Helped PMET Employment
Many of the non-PMET who lost their jobs found employment in other non-PMET roles that actually boosted PMET employment.
This was typically in sectors such as delivery workers, cashiers, kitchen assistants, and security guards. These roles reflect the shift to e-commerce and food delivery platforms which hire more PMETs, as well as safe distancing officers.
#7 Singapore Full-Time Employees Worked Less Hours In 2020
Singapore workers are often cited as some of the most over-worked employees. In 2020, the average weekly usual hours worked by a full-time employee was 45.4 hours, compared to 45.8 hours in 2019.
This may not be an entirely positive thing either as the cut back in working hours typically came from the Arts, Entertainment & Recreation, Retail Trade, Construction, Accommodation and Manufacturing sectors. While these sectors were some of the hardest hit and tend to have variable pay components. This means such workers may have been paid less.
This could also mean that full-time employees in other sectors typically didn’t work less or maybe in some instances maybe even putting in more hours.
Part-time employees, however, worked marginally longer hours.
Overall, PMETs in Singapore also tended to work less hours, compared to non-PMETs who tended to work longer hours because of COVID-19.
#8 Higher Educated Singapore Workers Are More Able To Work From Home
Nearly 1.09 million, or 49%, employed residents worked from home in 2020 because of COVID-19. Those who were most able to do their work from home and adapt their work to be conducted from home were higher educated employee – typically because of their nature of work.
Again, unsurprisingly, a high concentration of PMETs were able to do their work from home. They were typically working in Information & Communications, Financial & Insurance Services, Professional Services and Education sectors.
Also unsurprisingly, those typically unable to work from home were from sectors with fewer PMETs such as Food & Beverage, Transportation & Storage, Accommodation, Retail Trade, Health & Social Services, and Administration & Support Services.
Interestingly, work-from-home employees females (55.9%) were more likely to work from home compared to males (43.6%). This may also explain why females were less likely than males to lose their jobs.
Those aged 15 to 24 and 60 & over were also less likely to work from home – most likely due to the nature of their jobs.
#9 9% Of The Resident Workforce Experienced Shorter Work Hours Because Of COVID-19
Almost 1 in 10, or 201,100, employed residents experienced a reduction in hours as a result of shorter working hours or being put on no-pay leave.
Lower-educated workers bore the greatest brunt of this, with those having Below Secondary experiencing an average of 16.6 hours of reduced working hours. Degree holders only lost about 4.5 working hours on average.
Those who experienced the highest number of reduced hours tended to come from the hardest-hit sectors, including Accommodation, Food & Beverage, Other Community, Social and Personal Services and Arts, Entertainment & Recreation.
Older workers were also more likely to be affected, as 14.4% of them experienced reduced working hours, compared to typically 10 hours or less for other age groups.
#10 Lower-Educated Workers Were More Likely To Be Discouraged By COVID-19
The number of people not looking for a job because they were discouraged (or do not feel their job search will yield results) more than doubled since 2019 to 16,400 in 2020.
Those who were lower educated were also more likely to feel discouraged compared to those with higher qualifications. Those with degrees were least likely to be feel discouraged from being able to land a job.
At the same time, older workers were also more likely to feel discouraged in their pursuit to find a job. This is likely because of the acceleration in work from home trends and rapid adoption of digitalisation.
Many Of Those Who Are Out Of The Labour Force Intend To Come Back In
Many of us are attuned to the fact that people are Singapore’s only natural resource. While COVID-19 has wrecked many plans for employees and people in Singapore, it is heartening to also know that many of those who departed the workforce intend to return.
With positive COVID-19 vaccination updates, it could be very soon that the world economy reshapes itself for the post-COVID-19 world. Singapore and her workers need to be ready for this next phase. Part of the solution is to train current workers and include those who have recently left the workforce to participate again.
Many of those who have left the workforce, and indeed taken pay cuts within the workforce, are using this time to embark on education and training. They will come back even more equipped to contribute to Singapore’s economy.
There is also another group of people who are taking a break. Rarely has the opportunity cost been so low for some people in their lives. Especially for those working in the hardest-hit sectors, this could be the time to take a much-needed break before returning to the workforce or embarking on their own education or training journey.
For those discouraged, the government has rolled out numerous programmes for training and to subsidise employers for their salary with the Jobs Growth Incentive (JGI). With a little nudge, these folks can make their way back into the workforce if they choose.
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