On 17 June 2021, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) released the Labour Market Report First Quarter 2021. As expected, there were broad improvements in Singapore’s labour market.
Nevertheless, we should note that these statistics do not take the Phase 2 (Heightened Alert) and Phase 3 (Heightened Alert) measures into consideration.
Below are the 5 things we learned from the 1Q2021 MOM Labour Market Report.
#1 Citizen Unemployment Rate Down To 4.1% (Still Elevated From Pre-COVID-19 Levels)
Look at the chart below, we can see that at the peak of the COVID-19 uncertainties, Citizen Unemployment rate spiked to 4.9%. This is on par with the Great Financial Crisis in 2009, but better than the last health SARS health crisis in 2003.
Nevertheless, we should realise that an unprecedented nearly $100 billion dollars was spent combating the pandemic in 2020. The spending levels in past financial crises was not as high.
Since then, the Citizen Unemployment rate has been trending downwards. This is a positive sign of the Singapore economy, and as an extension, its jobs market perking up. In fact, on 25 May 2021, the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) maintained its forecast of a 4.0% to 6.0% growth in 2021, despite the announcement of Phase 2 (Heightened Alert). This points to a confidence in the Singapore economy being on course to achieve this target.
Nevertheless, as of April 2021, the Citizen Unemployment rate was at 4.1%. This is still at an elevated level compared to before COVID-19.
#2 Total Employment Grew By 12,200 (Unevenly)
1Q2021 marked the first time in four quarters that total employment numbers increased in Singapore. Total employment figures grew 12,200 in 1Q2021 compared to 4Q2020.
While this again points to a stronger jobs market, the recovery was not even in all sectors (understandably).
Sectors that grew the most included:
- Health & Social Services (3,100)
- Public Administration & Education (2,600)
- Food & Beverage (2,500)
- Administrative & Support Services (1,800)
- Information & Communications (3,100)
- Professional Services (1,400)
The report also mentioned that these employment went to residents, while non-resident employment either declined or remained unchanged.
Sectors that saw further losses in jobs were:
- Accommodation (-1,300)
- Air transport & Supporting Services (-1,400)
- Manufacturing (-4,200)
- Electronics Manufacturing (-1,800)
- Transport Equipment Manufacturing (-2,900)
Looking further back, while the employment growth of 12,200 was a bright spark, it was still under pre-COVID-19 levels.
#3 Retrenchments Dip To 2018 And 2019 Levels, But Those Lower Educated And Older Folks Still Need Significant Support
The number of retrenchments in Singapore fell to pre-COVID-19 levels. This could be an indication that we have seen the worst behind us.
From the detailed chart below, we can see that retrenchment levels for nearly all segments of the population halved in 1Q2021 from 4Q2020 (like the broad statistics). The only groups that did not see much improvement in retrenchment rates are those with lower education (below secondary school) and those aged 60 and above. These segments perhaps would see significant overlap, and would require more support to find income.
From the chart below, we can further see that even at the heights of the COVID-19 economic downturn, the number of retrenchments stayed below the previous highs during the GFC in 2009. However, if we look even further this was still an increase from the SARS crisis and the Asian Financial Crisis.
#4 Employees Put On Short Work-Week Or Temporary Layoffs Halved
Similar to the retrenchment rates, those put on short work-week or temporary layoffs was nearly halved from 4Q2020.
Looking closer into the number of people put on short work-week and temporary layoffs, we can truly see how this pandemic was very likely worse than previous economic downturns. The sheer number of people put on short work-weeks and temporarily laid off in 2Q2020 was more than three times the previous highs at over 81,700.
In the above points we could see that many of the comparisons were relatively close – but this is the one statistic that depicts the true impact of COVID-19 on Singapore’s economy.
#5 Job Vacancy To Unemployed Persons Ratio Almost On Par
As at April 2021, the number of jobs available almost matches the number of jobseekers. This represented another improving trend in the jobs market. The fact that not all of them can be employed is just economics – not everyone will have the skills required for the in-demand jobs. This is how structural unemployment occurs.
While unemployment remains elevated in Singapore, the fact that there are close to one job for every jobseeker, means that there are significantly more jobs available in Singapore. In fact, the 1Q2021 Labour Market Report highlights a record number of job openings as at March 2021, with 68,400 openings.
In fact, looking at the chart, even in the worst periods of COVID-19 downturn, there were significantly more job openings compared to previous crises. This may be due to heavy government support aimed at jobs creation and salary support – including the Jobs Support Scheme (JSS), Jobs Growth Incentive (JGI) and SGUnited Traineeships and Mid-Career Pathway Programmes.
Even though the number of job openings and jobseekers closely matched, and there was a record number of jobs opening in Singapore, this is still below the COVID-19 levels, when there was over one job per jobseeker.
Sectors with the most job vacancies are mostly logical. The only outlier is liklye the construction sector. However, this may also be explained by the fact that they cannot bring in workers from “high risk” countries currently, and thus require much more employment support for their projects.
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