Look for change, and not look for “Are they still poor?”

My 20-year-old daughter is an undergraduate in a local university. Other than school, she spends time with her friends and she also makes time for some volunteering to help the underprivileged amongst us. Good girl, I’d say, I’m happy with the way she is turning out.

She has always been a very curious child, always asking the 10,000 WHYs.

Yesterday evening, the family was just sitting around after dinner. She was seated in the corner sofa, feet up and scrolling through her phone. Not sure what she was reading on her screen, maybe some activists shouting for change, or maybe it was some middle-aged anti-establishment uncle who’s angry at every piece of policy out there.

Anyway, she looked up and asked,

“I wonder, Mama. What would your advice be to a somewhat idealistic young woman who can’t find it in herself to trust much of what the Government says about helping the low wage workers in Singapore? Are our Government really doing right by them?”

I said to my daughter this, and I’d say the same to all the young men and young women all there.

Verify it.

Look around yourself and look at how your friends and their families live, especially those from lower income families. If you’ve known them long enough, think about their lives a decade ago and now. Have their lives improved?

Go out, talk to people of different ages from different walks of life, especially your friends from the lower income background.

Ask, especially the lower wage ones, how many times they have had to go hungry? Did they not get help from the Government when they have healthcare needs? Did your friends ever worry about not being able to continue with school? Do they have a roof over their heads? Has life improved compared to, say, 10 years ago?

Look for change, and not look for “Are they still poor?”

You will likely find that most have seen their incomes improved. Some may still look poor to you, but dear, look for change, and not look for “Are they still poor?”

You don’t have to compare them to the next person or to yourselves. Just because they have a smaller household income, live in a smaller flat than you does not mean their lives have not improved over the years. Just look around you, and compare the people’s lives with 10 years ago.

Verify progress yourself, and not just say “they still look poor to me”.

Long after she had gone to bed last night, I tossed and turned in my bed, not able to fall asleep easily.

I wondered if I could have given her a better answer. Should I have googled and provided her with some official statistics? Should I have confirmed what actual increase in real income amongst the lower income people?

These thoughts still did not go away when I got up today. So here I am, actually googling for these during my lunch break at work. Here’s what I’d found.

1. Household income inequality at its lowest in almost two decades

It is heartening to learn that household income inequality is at its lowest in almost two decades.

Between 2014 and 2019, the median monthly income per household member grew by 22.2 per cent cumulatively, a 4.1 per cent per annum growth in real terms.

Meanwhile, families across all income groups saw real growth in average household income from each member last year, in line with trends over the last five years.

Households in the first to 90th percentiles registered growth of between 3.5 and 5.6 per cent, while those in the top 10 per cent saw growth of 0.4 per cent.

2. Incomes of low-wage workers up by over 50% in past decade

The incomes of Singapore’s workers at the 10th percentile increased by more than 50 per cent over the past decade, to $1,517 in 2019.  Full-time resident workers at this percentile had earned $1,000 in 2009.

Real incomes have increased by around 30% in the three PWM sectors, outpacing the real income growth of 21% at the median for all sectors. The PWM is a wage ladder that sets out minimum pay and training requirements for workers at different skill levels. Source: Straits Times

3. Over 80,000 lower-wage workers have benefitted from Progressive Wage Model (PWM)

Experts and academics have mostly said that the income trends have been “encouraging and likely to continue” since the Government has focused significant attention and resources to address inequality in recent years.

The monthly incomes for the bottom 10 to 20 per cent have most likely increased as a result of higher earnings resulting from the Progressive Wage Model (PWM) for the selected sectors. So just how many lower wage workers have been impacted?

Over 80,000 lower-wage workers in Singapore have benefitted from the implementation of Progressive Wage Model (PWM) / Source: MOM

The work is not completed yet, of course.


Naturally, I sent all of these to my daughter dearest. Being the Gen Z person that she is, she texted back,



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