Just like a broken record player, that tired refrain is heard yet again: We must welcome more new immigrants otherwise our economy will tank.
In recent days, with the release of the Census findings that Singapore’s total fertility rate (TFR) has dropped to an all time low of 1.16, this rhetoric has turned to blame-shifting: It is your fault, Singaporeans, for not producing more offspring. You have left us with no choice but to open the floodgates to foreigners.
The TFR was 1.61 in 1983. Seventeen years later, in 2000, TFR still held steady at 1.6. But in just 10 years between 2000 and 2010, the fertility rate have seen a dramatic drop from 1.6 in 2000, to 1.26 in 2004, and to 1.16 last year. Coincidentally, this is also the period in which we have seen the most dramatic increase in our population through immigration and the import of foreign workers. Our population grew more than 25 per cent from four million to five million in this period.
Could there be a link between the increase in population and the drop in birth rates? It is not inconceivable. Young Singaporeans cite a variety of reasons for not having more children: Too busy at work, cost of living too high, education system too stressful for children (and their parents), cannot find a place of their own to stay.
Many of these reasons are linked to overcrowding and steeper competition, which are, to a large extent, the result of the mismanaged immigration policies of this government. Workers have to put in extra hours so they can be “cheaper, better, faster” and avoid being edged out of a job by foreigners willing to work for a third less salary. The higher demand for goods and services has pushed up prices. The already-stressful local school system has gotten tougher and more competitive. And of course high HDB prices have put the brakes on many housing and marriage plans.
So should the government be heaping the blame for low birth rates on hapless Singaporeans? I think not.