The 5Cs of a good life here will have to change
By Lauren Ong
ILLUSTRATION: ETHAN TAY
For most young people, getting a car is not a priority. It seems like the Singapore Dream is no longer cars, along with cash, credit card, condominium and country club. You can put it down to the practicality of owning a car in Singapore or the success of the car-lite policy.
Instead, their primary concerns are with staying employable, having job security and a government that is fair and efficient.
These sentiments were reflected in our survey of 50 students and 50 young working adults, between the ages of 21 and 26. The ability to buy a car, rated on a scale of 1 to 5, ranked lowest among issues they felt were important to them.
Ms Tiana Roy, 24, described cars as a “highly overpriced” goods that depreciate in value. “Public transport is sufficient enough for my lifestyle,” said the public policy and global affairs undergraduate.
“I guess if my financial situation or lifestyle changes, I might want a car. But I would definitely not splurge on it and just get the cheapest model that serves my need because cars aren’t really a symbol of social status to me. I would rather spend that money on other things like house or travel,” she added.
For young people, especially those who are already in the job market, job security is a chief concern, followed by the ability to move to a job they want. Similarly, students placed getting a job as their top priority. It appears that the tepid job market, even before the coronavirus outbreak, has been preying on their minds.
The survey was conducted between September last year to February this year, amid labour market strains as Singapore’s trade-reliant economy was weighed down by the US-China trade tensions and uncertainty over Brexit. More workers were retrenched in the fourth quarter of 2019 than in the third, according to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM).
Professionals, Managers, Executives and Technicians (PMETs) seem to have borne the brunt of the retrenchment rut, making up 67 per cent of the 2,470 workers retrenched in the third quarter last year, according to government data. But PMETs may take some comfort in the fact that the absolute number of retrenched PMETs has been on a decline since 2016.
The desire for job security will always remain a perennial concern regardless of the state of the job market, said Ms Lim Jie Ying, a 25-year-old supply manager. “When you don’t have one, you are scared you cannot get one. When you get one, you are scared that you will lose it. It’s just a normal thing for people.”
Our survey also asked respondents how concerned they were about issues such as the affordability of their first house, effects of climate change and healthcare costs. They were intended as a gauge of what sort of issues were important to these first-time voters, who will take part in the coming general election due by April 2021.
Comparison of mean values millennial students and young working adults gave to each issue.
Other concerns ranked highly among young working adults was the ability to move to a job they want, which clinched the second top spot. This was followed by being able to afford their first home and then the need for an efficient and fair government.
For students, the need for an efficient and fair government ranked the second highest in importance, followed by being able to afford healthcare costs and getting a job they wanted.
Chemistry undergraduate Gary Lim, 25, said: “I think when you get the job, you get the financial security and then everything else will come more or less naturally. When it comes to housing, once you get a job, and it’s a stable source of income, then what you really need is just proper financial planning.’’.
“If let’s say you really cannot afford what you really want, the place you want to live in, your dream house, then you have to be practical and settle for something less.”
Agreeing, Environmental Studies undergraduate Deng Yimin, 23, said “once you work out on the finances, it’s actually okay.”
Even as these bread and butter issues like jobs and healthcare costs rank highly in importance, some respondents said it was not something they actively worried about.
“In the hierarchy of things, obviously you would want to settle your bread and butter issues,” Ms Roy said. “And since they are, it makes sense that we have the opportunity and the privilege to care about these kinds of issues, like freedom of speech and so on.”
WHY SOME VIEWS RANKED LOWER
Our survey results showed the need for fair and efficient government — which students ranked second and young working adults ranked fourth — trumps other concerns relating to the protection of personal freedoms and civil liberties and diversity in Parliament.
For Environmental Studies undergraduate Tan Zhen Kai, a fair and efficient government is the “cornerstone for societal welfare” and is what he thinks would “offer job security” — another top concern for students.
“Since Singapore bases herself on the core value of meritocracy, it is pertinent to have a fair government in place so that everyone will be assessed on an equal level playing field, solely based on proficiency and knowledge,” he said.
Ms Deng believes fairness and efficiency in government is what creates a functioning society. An efficient government, she said, is essential if the workforce needs to respond quickly to changes in global trends. And to her, a fair government meant one that was inclusive of different races, ages, abilities and religion in its policy making.
“This is important to me because as a person who intends to live and age in Singapore, a functioning society is the basis for a future that I can pursue my goals without worries for large scale instability that are out of my control,” she said.
That can’t happen if there’s too much protection for personal freedoms and civil liberties, she added. “I’m not saying that it’s bad but I think that it leads to inefficiency. And I am not sure if it's conducive for us to move forward like that,” she said.
Agreeing, job coach Ruth Luk, 23, said that staging a protest, for example, “does not necessarily make the change happen”.
Instead, Ms Roy saw voting as a better way to have the views and concerns of the populace made known to the Government.
Asked why he thought the need for different voices in parliament ranked low among his peers, Mr Lim said: “You cannot just elect them into parliament just because you want an alternative voice.
“If their sole purpose is just to stop the incumbent from doing whatever they want, then of course there are going to have people blocking each other. But if they are really working to seek that consensus, like they are really thinking for Singapore then I guess it won’t happen. So it really depends on the quality of the people, like whether their hearts are in the right place.”
CONCERNS HEIGHTEN WHEN ENTERING WORKFORCE
Overall, young working adults responded slightly stronger to the 11 issues presented, with an average score of 3.85 for all issues. Students had an average score of 3.70.
Ms Roy thought students scored lower because they are still uncertain about their future and keeping their options open. “Whereas I think once you get your job, maybe you can see your future a bit clearer. So you have certain goals with certain deadlines,” she said.
It may also be because students are still reliant on their parents, said Ms Luk.
However, Linguistics undergraduate Chew Chiyin, 22, said that these issues might not resonate to some people, herself included, as their life goals are “not that pragmatic anymore”.
“It’s more of emotional happiness and how satisfied I am with myself and how I am living my life” that’s more important, she added.
Students seem to be more engaged than young working adults in political and civic activities, albeit by a slight margin.
On another 5-point scale, survey respondents were asked to rate how often they participated in 14 different activities, of which eight were offline and six were online. They include joining a Hong Lim Park assembly, signing an online petition and participating in events for a cause.
A score of 1 meant that they participated in that event zero times, a score of 2 signified one to three times, and so on.
Comparison of mean values millennial students and young working adults gave to each activity.
Overall, both groups showed low levels of participation in these activities were. Students averaged 1.50 for all events and young working adults averaged 1.40.
Students were more active than young working adults in participating in events for a cause, volunteering in non-profit organizations, signing petitions, reading blogs and commenting on other people’s blogs or social media.
Ms Roy suggested that that’s because volunteer work was a way for students to spruce up their resume.
“Then you get a job and your intention does not stay,” she said.
Mr Tan thought that students did not have high participation rates because they “do not treat politics as one of their priorities in the current stage of their lives.”
“We are not required to handle bread and butter issues as of now, (we are) mostly focused on education,” he said.
Whereas some are like Ms Deng, who prefers devoting her time to passion projects for the environment than to attend grassroots events.
This was not a surprise to Dr Natalie Pang, a communications and new media lecturer at the National University of Singapore, who said civic and political participation in Singapore has always been “generally low” since its independence.
“Our form of engagement tends to be in volunteering and supporting causes so it’s not surprising that it’s higher than others,” said Dr Pang, who has published papers on the digital landscape and elections since 2011.
Dr Pang said youths had greater engagement in the online space largely because it's less costly and easier than participating in person. They are also less “expressive” and more about “reading and sharing information”, she added.
Ready or not, these young citizens would be needed at the polls within the next year or so and voting would probably be their first significant political engagement.
And their vote might be particularly important. In the 2015 general election, Singaporeans aged 21 to 29 was one of the two population groups (the other being those over 65 years) that accounted for a national vote swing towards the People’s Action Party, reported TODAY.
With cars and other traditional priorities buried deep in the millennial lexicon, electoral candidates might be facing a crowd where the perennial bread and butter issues might not be such a vote-winner anymore.
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Apart from prioritising emotional happiness, Ms Chew said that her standards for personal satisfaction are “not that pragmatic anymore.”
“I don’t know how to say but I have my own standards on how I live my life,” she said.
“It’s not really how the older generation views it.”