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COVID-19: Number of unemployed residents may hit above 100,000 this year – Heng Swee Keat

Amir Hussain
Senior Reporter
Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat. (PHOTO: YouTube screengrab)

SINGAPORE — The government expects the number of unemployed residents in Singapore to rise to above 100,000 this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, said Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat on Friday (5 June).

In comparison, the number of unemployed residents totalled 73,000 in 2019 while the highest on record was 91,000 during the 2003 SARS epidemic.

The impact of the current pandemic could take longer than a decade to ease, said Heng while delivering his round-up speech on the Fortitude Budget in Parliament.

“COVID-19 is a global crisis of our generation,” he said. “Never before have we seen a global lockdown of this scale. The pandemic has exposed vulnerabilities in global supply chains, accelerated digitalisation and technological changes, and fragmented global markets.”

The International Monetary Fund has projected the global economy to contract by 3 per cent this year compared with the 0.07 per cent drop during the Global Financial Crisis, Heng noted, adding that it is a level not seen since the Great Depression.

“The world took eight to 10 years following the Great Depression and Global Financial Crisis to recover to pre-crisis unemployment levels, and we should not be surprised that it takes as long, if not longer, to bounce back from the effects of COVID-19,” Heng added.

While the First World War stripped a “Lost Generation” of a sense of hope and direction, there is now talk of a global “Lockdown Generation” affecting youths. Heng said Singapore must prevent a “COVID Generation” of workers and students.

On unemployment, Heng noted that the pandemic will have a lasting effect on the number and quality of jobs globally, with the International Labour Organisation estimating that global unemployment could surpass 25 million people.

Total size of Budgets stands at $193 billion

The Fortitude Budget, Singapore’s unprecedented fourth Budget for its current financial year, comprises $33 billion and is aimed at helping businesses and saving jobs.

Together with the $6.4 billion Unity Budget in February, the $48 billion Resilience Budget in March, and the $5.1 billion Solidarity Budget in early April, the government is dedicating almost $100 billion, or close to 20 per cent of GDP, to its COVID-19 response.

Of the total amount allocated, more than 80 per cent, or $72 billion, will go towards helping workers stay in their jobs, and supporting businesses and their employees.

Together with the government’s usual spending, the total size of the four Budgets stands at $193 billion, which is more than double the size of the annual Budgets in preceding years.

The new Budget funds will also take Singapore’s overall budget deficit for 2020 to $74.3 billion, or 15.4 per cent of its GDP.

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