Joel in Singapore: ‘Challenges in attracting newcomers’


Zul Othman


SINGAPORE-While most countries may turn to immigration to resolve the problem of a dwindling population, urban development scholar Joel Kotkin warns that such a measure could give rise to more problems.

Speaking at the Civil Service College yesterday, the 57-year-old Chapman University Presidential Fellow and former journalist said: “There is no question in my mind you’re going to have problems when you depend on immigrants who have no ties to the country”.

If immigration is a solution to economic development, then policy-makers also need to focus on upward mobility – it is not simply about “luring” the middle class, but creating one as well.

The Government has said that Singapore cannot afford to close its doors to immigrants as the inflow helps to improve the old-age support ratio by increasing the number of economically active residents.But there are also challenges in attracting newcomers, such as the issue of class, said Mr Kotkin.

As the new transient immigrants will undoubtedly become part of the “service class”, it is important that policy-makers ensure that the low labour rates and persistent underemployment do not result in the rise of an underclass.

The growth of poorly-educated newcomers and youngsters, something that is common among immigrants in other advanced cities, is another problem to watch out for, said Mr Kotkin.

This all ties in with the issue of income inequality and the lack of upward mobility for those in the lower strata of society, something not all countries are immune to.

“This is not evident in Singapore yet but it is inevitable,” he said.

While Mr Kotkin feels Singapore is a much more “interesting” city compared to its neighbours, it should also continue to evolve by maintaining economic competitiveness, investing in infrastructure and, more importantly, making the cities and urban regions more family friendly; to remind inhabitants “that they do not have to work so hard to maintain their middle-class lifestyle”.

But the key thing Singapore should watch out for is that “middle-income jobs remain here”, he said.

As the economy grows, there will be “more high-end jobs in the years ahead” but the disappearance of middle-income jobs, which could be made obsolete through technology or outsourcing, is another sign of the rising income gap.

Mr Kotkin was speaking at a lecture which was presented by the Centre for Governance and Leadership in collaboration with the Centre for Liveable Cities.