Make foreigners, PRs count in income data

Make foreigners, PRs count in income data

THERE has been some good news for workers here in recent weeks.

As Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam pointed out in his Budget speech on Monday, incomes have continued to rise, outpacing inflation, buoyed by a tight labour market and more jobs.

Recently released government data also bears this out. The Household Income Trends report made public last week shows that among resident employed households, median monthly household income from work has risen steadily from $6,006 in 2009 to $8,292 last year. That's an increase of 3.4 per cent per annum, even after adjusting for inflation.

Personal incomes are also growing, though at a slower pace.

Full-time employed Singapore citizens earned $3,566 last year. This is up from $2,748 five years earlier, according to the Ministry of Manpower's Employment Situation report released on Jan 30.

Real incomes of Singaporeans have grown faster than residents' between 2013 and 2014. Citizens' incomes have risen by 1.4 per cent; residents' incomes, by 0.7 per cent.

This could partly be due to measures in the past year to boost incomes of Singaporean workers in low-wage jobs, such as cleaners.

While all this is good news, it is worth noting that there remain significant gaps in national income data which should be plugged.

Citizen v PR income data

FIRST, there is a need to distinguish more sharply between citizens' incomes and those of permanent residents (PRs) - and both must be made public.

There appears to be no publicly available information right now on how much PRs earn. The latest Labour Force In Singapore report shows that median monthly incomes for full-time employed residents - that is citizens plus PRs - grew to $3,770 last year.

This is higher than the median income of full-time Singaporean workers, which is $3,566.

It is thus clear that PRs - who tend to be better educated than citizens - likely earned more than citizens. Lumping citizen and PR income data can paint too rosy a picture of a community's income trends. For example, there has been concern that the income data of ethnic Indian Singaporeans is being inflated by lumping them together with India-born immigrants who take up permanent residence or citizenship here.

In 2010, the average monthly household income from work in homes where the head of household was an Indian was $7,664, well above the national average of $7,214.

Significantly, a decade earlier, the incomes of Indian-headed households was $4,623 - below the national average income ($4,988) as well as that for the Chinese community ($5,258).

The influx in the 2000s of better-educated - and higher-income Indian nationals who took up PR here - was seen as a possible reason for the rise.

As Singapore citizens age and if fertility rates remain low, more and more younger PRs may flood the Singapore workforce.

Distinguishing between and separately tracking incomes and numbers of citizens and PRs will give a truer picture of Singaporean income trends.

In fact, labour force surveys should clearly distinguish between citizen and non-citizen workers in all aspects of employment, such as salaries and age profiles.

This way, the data can help shed light on the persistent complaint of some older Singaporeans that they are losing out to younger PRs in the workplace.

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