05 February 2006

Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics

Ng Eng Hen's Ministry of Manpower clearly knows the difference between lies, damn lies, and statistics. Consider the recent release of Q4 figures by his ministry: the unemployment rate fell to a 5-year low of 2.5%!

Let's hold back the picture of Ng in a coverall on a factory floor, with a giant banner proclaiming MISSION ACCOMPLISHED, okay?

A look at Channelnewsasia's and ST's versions of the story will reveal the standard message: Record employment in 2005 (2.3 million serfs), 32,800 jobs created in December (No metion if they're just holiday-specific jobs), and expectations by unnamed economic experts of moderate wage increases (tell me if any economic recovery since 2001 has been accompanied by wage or even job increases?).

Then take a look at the Financial Times coverage of the same story (archived on SBP).
Singapore said on Wednesday its unemployment rate last year fell to a provisional 3.2 per cent, the lowest since 2001, although the figure was flattered by a recent change in how the data was measured. The government decided last year to revise the measurement of unemployment to include foreign workers who have temporary work permits, including construction workers living on site and those who commute to Singapore from Malaysia.

"The revision has the effect of reducing the overall unemployment rate as...(the) total labour force is now larger, taking into account full coverage of the foreign workforce," said the ministry of manpower, which compiles the statistics. Unemployment rates for foreign workers are lower since they normally lose their work permits and can no longer stay in Singapore if they become jobless.

Such an important point got conveniently left out of ST and CNA's press reports. Why are our national press run by these fools?

This is blatant statistical massaging that puts several question marks on all the figures quoted in the reports.

How much of the 32,800 jobs created last December, for example, went to Singaporeans and not temporary foreign workers? How much of Singapore's record-high of 2.3 million workers were Singaporean workers? How much is the SINGAPOREAN rate of unemployment?

Okay. Apparently Financial Times does have the figure, which it got from the Min. of Manpower: 3.3% in Q4. Is this a reason to pop out the champagne? The 2005 Q1 unemployment rate was 3.5% (2005 figures, of course, did not include foreign workers), so we have 3.3% unemployment in Q4 2005 vs 3.5% in Q1 2005. This, contrary to what FT's reporter says, is not a cause for celebration, nor a worthy achievement, nor a harbinger of more good things to come.

Why this insistence on the Singaporean rate of unemployment? Well, apparently during the Budget debate in 2005, Minister Ng Eng Hen vowed to "re-take jobs for Singaporeans".
1. Has he?
2. Why does his ministry now deprive us of even finding that out, with the "new and improved" method of calculating unemployment?

1 comment:

rench00 said...

why else? election year mah... so certain things must go up.

but i do agree... it is devious (though not unexpected) that the figures were thus manipulated... such that a relatively insignificant improvement was made out to portray a much more sanguine situation...