Real monthly pay increased for the first time since 2003 to NT$41,538 last year, inching up 1.7 percent from a year earlier, figures released by the Directorate-General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics (DGBAS) on Friday last week showed.
However, most ordinary wage earners can hardly tell the difference. Many young workers might say that they have found it increasingly unaffordable to have children, pay health insurance or buy big-ticket life necessities, not to mention owning a house.
The DGBAS attributed the increase to an annual 0.23 percent fall in the consumer price index and salary hikes by electronic component companies.
Taking a deeper look at the structure of local wages, workers under the age of 25 earned less than NT$29,000 a month in 2019, far less than the average wage of NT$41,500 per month and little changed from 2018, according to the DGBAS’ yearly report released in December last year.
Apart from that, the DGBAS’ latest jobs data showed that last year’s average number of employees shrank by 12,000, down 0.15 percent year-on-year, to 7.95 million — the first decline since 2009.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also significantly affected the workforce in the tourism and dining sector, as it lost 27,000 workers from a year earlier, the agency said.
The jobless rate rose 0.12 percentage points to 3.85 percent last year from 2019, the highest it has been since 2016.
A survey from the Ministry of Labor provides a different view of the nation’s job market. The survey showed that the COVID-19 pandemic had an alarming effect on wages last year. More than 7 percent of the nation’s total employees, or about 700,000 people, were either laid off, got paycheck cuts or their pay did not change due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and more than 6 percent, or 600,000 people, were forced to leave their jobs, or work overseas.
The number of workers on unpaid leave totaled 3,703 as of Feb. 8, with the tourism sector, tour bus companies in particular, suffering the most, the Ministry of Labor’s data showed. More than 84,000 workers have applied for subsidies this year, up 6.33 percent from 79,000 last year, the ministry said.
Those bleak job market figures, to some extent, explain why the nation’s private consumption is far from recovering to pre-COVID-19 levels.
Private consumption dropped 2.37 percent last year from a year earlier, compared with a robust expansion of 3.11 percent annually in the trade-oriented economy underpinned by strong exports and manufacturing output, the DGBAS data showed.
The economy’s growth is uneven. The industrial sector grew at an annual pace of 6.11 percent primarily due to robust demand for semiconductors used in 5G-related devices such as smartphones and electronics used by people staying at home, while agriculture rose 1.33 percent and the service sector grew 1.18 percent. That indicates that the economy is heavily dependent on the industrial sector for growth, accounting for 2.18 percentage points of GDP.
The economy might not face an immediate risk of catching “Dutch disease,” where growth is solely dependent on a specific sector, while others are in decline. However, it is very clear from the unequal growth in different sectors that workers who are not in the electronics sector continue to face stagnating wages and need the government’s help financially to weather the crisis caused by COVID-19.
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