Singapore GE2020: Median incomes, productivity up by a third in 10 years

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In the past 10 years, median incomes in Singapore have risen by 32 per cent in real terms after accounting for inflation, said Mr Tharman. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

Updated from : The Straits Times8 July 2020

An “urban myth” that usually circulates during election season is that productivity in Singapore has stagnated, said Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam in a live talk show yesterday.

In fact, Singapore has achieved more than it expected, he said, as median incomes and productivity have both risen by one-third in the last 10 years.

He was speaking in Straight Talk With PAP, a show streamed live from the People’s Action Party’s headquarters in New Upper Changi Road. The senior minister will helm the PAP team in Jurong GRC at the July 10 polls.

In the past 10 years, median incomes in Singapore have risen by 32 per cent in real terms after accounting for inflation, he said.

“Ten years ago, median incomes were about $2,900,” he noted. “Now, in nominal terms, it’s $4,600. After adjusting for inflation, it’s still 32 per cent – a very substantial increase. Very few countries at the same level of development as Singapore, the same advanced country levels, have seen that continuous increase in incomes.”

This has been made possible by raising productivity, he added. The Government has aimed for 2 to 3 per cent productivity growth per year on average in the past 10 years.

Though Singapore had a “tough decade” at the start of the 2000s, with barely 1 per cent productivity growth, the Government shifted gears on different fronts such as foreign worker policy, the SkillsFuture initiative and giving firms incentives to upgrade.

As a result, Mr Tharman said, productivity has grown yearly by an average of 2.4 per cent per worker – or 2.8 per cent, if calculated per work hour.

“What that means is that over 10 years, productivity went up by one-third, just like median wages… That’s a story that is not seen elsewhere in the advanced world. And we have to find ways of sustaining it.”

But there remain areas of weakness, he said, citing the construction sector, which lags behind those of other advanced countries by a large margin.

The sector will require a major overhaul in the coming years to create jobs for Singaporeans, such as logistics planners, safety officers, machine operators and engineers, he said.

But overall, Singapore is “now in the upper tier of advanced countries in our level of productivity and our level of median incomes”, he added.