THE job market went from bad to worse in the second quarter: job seekers outnumbered job openings for the first time in four years, and the jobless rate among graduates rose to its highest since 2009.
Job vacancies fell from 50,000 in March to 49,400 in June, extending the downward trend that has been in place since March 2015, said the Ministry of Manpower's Labour Market Report for the second quarter released on Thursday.
There were only a seasonally-adjusted 93 vacancies for every 100 job hunters in June, down from 103 in March, with the decline in openings cutting across all industries. The last time job vacancies fell short of job seekers was in June 2012, when there were 98 vacancies for every 100 job seekers, the report said.
This may well suggest the end of Singapore's labour crunch.
Citigroup's economist Kit Wei Zheng said: "With job vacancies now falling below job seekers, and with the (recent) Manpower Survey showing the net employment outlook for the fourth quarter at the weakest since the third quarter of 2009, it may be increasingly difficult to characterise the job market as tight."
The hiring rate, after accounting for seasonal factors, slipped from 2.4 per cent in the first quarter to 2.2 per cent, nearing the all-time low of 2.0 per cent recorded in the second quarter of 2009, said the report.
For professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs), the fall in job openings was mainly in community, social and personal services and financial and insurance services. The fall in job openings among non-PMETs was in accommodation and food services; community, social and personal services; administrative and support services; and construction.
Virtually all job indicators worsened in the second quarter, starting with the overall unemployment rate, which rose from a seasonally-adjusted 1.9 per cent in March to 2.1 per cent in June.
OCBC Bank economist Selena Ling said: "The domestic labour market is clearly softening, partly due to increasing caution by businesses, given the sluggish growth environment."
The resident jobless rate, that is, that for citizens and permanent residents, jumped from 2.7 in March to 3.0 per cent in June; the rate for those under 30 years old dipped over the year from 7.2% in June 2015 to 7.1% in June 2016. The unemployment rates for the other age groups went up to around 3.4 per cent.
Among degree holders, the jobless rate climbed from 3.5 per cent in June 2015 to 4.3 per cent in June 2016.
Ms Ling said: "The key is whether those laid off are able to find re-employment within a reasonable period of time."
The chances of that have apparently grown slimmer.
Only 45 per cent of resident workers made redundant in the first quarter - the lowest since 2009 - found new jobs in the second quarter; of those who lost jobs in the last quarter of last year, 46 per cent managed to land jobs in the first quarter of this year. The year before, the figure was 55 per cent.
Total employment grew by 4,200 in the second quarter, smaller than in the first quarter (13,000) and a year ago (9,700). Services continued to be the main contributor to job growth, where employment grew by 7,600 in the second quarter of 2016.
Retail trade posted further job losses of 1,200, adding up to total declines of 1,900 for the first half of the year. Sluggish global trade and weak oil prices increased the losses in manufacturing to 3,400 in the second quarter.
"This extended from the cutbacks for the whole of 2015," said the report, which added that manufacturing is expected to recruit fewer workers in the third quarter.
Softer economic conditions pushed up redundancies in the second quarter, when 4,800 workers were axed - the highest number of second-quarter lay-offs since 2009, when the figure was 5,980. Redundancies were fewer the quarter before, at 4,710; a year ago, it was 3,250.
OCBC's Ms Ling noted: "This is indicative of labour churning, attributable to the economic restructuring story, as well as to sectors that are under pressure."
In the first six months of this year, 9,510 workers were made redundant, the highest number since 2009, when it hit 18,740. Redundancies jumped in services, which accounted for the bulk of the cuts, but dipped in manufacturing and construction.
Looking ahead, Ms Ling said it is not all doom and gloom: "Second-half employment typically tends to pick up, especially in the festive season in the fourth quarter."
Still, she accepted that job growth going forward is likely to be more modest than in past years.
Amendment note: The Ministry of Manpower has clarified that the unemployment rates cannot be compared quarter-on-quarter as they are not seasonally adjusted. Comparison for the breakdowns could be made year-on-year because the comparison is made for the same period. The article has been revised to reflect this.