Jobs and assistance statistics: More or less?

by Leong Sze Hian

I refer to the article “Labour chief hopes for steady wage increases over next decade” (Today, Dec 3). and the report (“Fewer need assistance from Comcare as economy improves“, by Sara Grosse, 05:55 AM Nov 16, 2010, Today).

According to the latter article, the number of Comcare applicants dropped by 11 per cent in the first nine months of this year, compared to the same period last year.

What is conspicuously missing in the above mentioned news report, which is a mirror of the earlier report by the same author “ComCare applications decrease this year“, (by Sara Grosse, Posted: 15 November 2010 1613 hrs, Channel News Asia), is the sentence, “The maximum duration of assistance given under this fund is three months”.

With regard to the example given of a receipient, Mdm Lee who is 78 years old and stopped working six years ago as a cleaner, and earned about $400 to $500 a month, receiving $360 a month to pay for her rental fee, bills and food, why is it that the maximum duration of assistance given under the fund is three months?

In this connection, according to the article “S’pore’s dirty secret” (Straits Times, 28 July 2007),  in the last 10 years, the starting salaries of all occupational groups rose – except cleaners and labourers. Their median monthly starting pay fell 30 per cent between 1996 and 2006 – from $860 to $600.

The article also revealed that office cleaners and airport loaders have monthly starting salaries of only $500 and $550 respectively.

Three years ago, the Job Recreation Programme (JRP) was set up to boost the productivity and pay of low-skilled jobs in several sectors, from cleaning to construction.

Now, after three years, the latest available data indicate that the wages of the job category, cleaners, labourers and general workers, continue to linger at $650, the highest unemployment rate was in this category, and productivity also fell in the last three years.

Hence, it may now be poignant to revisit the labour chief’s remarks in the subject article three years ago:-

“In an interview last year, Mr Lim Swee Say, who is now the labour chief, said he suspected the easy entry of cheap foreign workers in some sectors has reduced the incentive for employers to improve work processes and raise productivity. It is easier and cheaper to hire cheap, than to invest in better work processes”.

But at the same time, Mr Lim “made clear he was not opposed to foreign workers, saying that they contributed to the economy”.

Instead, Mr Lim wants Singapore to focus on raising productivity. “When their productivity goes up, their pay will also go up without eroding business competitiveness,” he was quoted as saying in the article.

In the past three years, Foreign workers, particularly lower-skilled workers, have increased to record highs. Over the same period, productivity fell.

Mr Lim had called the solutions tried out by other countries – from a minimum wage policy and closing the door on low-skilled foreign workers to paying foreign local workers the same wages ‘easy solutions’ that do not necessarily work.

But the stark fact and reality remains that none of the solutions tried by the labour movement has worked at all.

Job seekers on the rise

With regard to “Some 18,000 new job seekers have registered for employment assistance in the first nine months of this year, down from 31,000 last year”, according to the Joint Press Release by the CDCs for the second quarter, on 17 August, 2010, the number of new job seekers registered for employment assistance was 5,600 and 6,400 for the second and first quarter, respectively.

Therefore, the number of new job seekers for the third quarter was 6,000 (18,000 – 5,600 – 6,400).

With media reports saying that the job market is bursting at its seams, and the economy on track to being the fastest growing economy in the world at 15 per cent GDP growth for this year, why is it that the number of new job seekers increased by seven per cent from 5,600 (last quarter) to 6,000 this quarter?

In the last three months, more than 3,200 job seekers were placed into employment, and since there were 6,000 new job seekers last quarter, the placement ratio of placed into employment to job seekers was 53 per cent (3,200 divided by 6,000).

Similarly, for the second quarter, the placement ratio was 71 per cent (4,000 divided by 5,600).

So, why has the placement ratio dropped from 71 to 53 per cent for the last quarter?

Since the job market is booming, shouldn’t the placement ratio be increasing instead?

Also, what this means is that since new job seekers increased by seven per cent, when coupled with the placement ratio’s decline from 71 to 53 per cent, for the last quarter, does it mean that actually more job seekers were unable to find employment?

Social assistance applications down only marginally – despite record growth

With regard to the CDC career centers referred more than 1,600 job seekers for training, a three per cent drop compared to the same period last year, this statistic does not seem to gel with what the CDCs have always been saying in the past, such as in its second quarter joint press release, that partly due to the drop in the number of job seekers registered, with the improving economic conditions and wider employment opportunities – likewise, for the second quarter, CDCs referred about 1,100 job seekers for training, a 46 per cent decrease compared to the same period last year.

So, why is it that training referrals have increased by 45 per cent from 1,100 to 1,600 in the last quarter?

In this connection, I understand that job seekers who go for training are not counted in the unemployment statistics.

As to the number of people who sought social assistance has dropped by 10 per cent to some 10,000, in the July to September period from the corresponding period last year, why is it that whilst new job seekers are down significantly from 31,000 last year to 18,000 for the first nine months of this year, that there are still 10,000 or more new households applying for social assistance every quarter this year?

Singapore's social assistance - Shelter from the storm?

In fact, year-to-date, there were 34,500 (first quarter 14, 100 + 10,400 second quarter + 10,000 third quarter) new households that applied for social assistance.

I find it rather alarming that despite the economic boom, the number of new social assistance applications is only about 1,000 (10 per cent) less than the same quarter last year, which was in the midst of Singapore’s worse recession.

If we add the new households applications to old households that applied in the past, how many households in total have applied for assistance?

Since the CDCs received more than 48,000 and about 36,300 applications for social assistance in 2009 and 2008, respectively, at the current year’s application rate, the total for the year may still be about 44,000, which is about 21 per cent more than the pre-recession figure of 36,300 in 2008, and just eight per cent less than last year which was the worst recession in Singapore.

Consequently, the CDC statistics do not seem to be in line with the robust economic situation in Singapore this year.

Since the number of households’ applications approved in 2009 was 33,000. it means that the approval success rate was 69 per cent. What is the approval success rate so far, for this year?

Finally, I would like to suggest that the statistics be tracked and revealed as to how many of those who apply for assistance are working, so that we have some indication as to how many households may not be earning enough income to support their families.