By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
SINGAPORE — The number of jobless Singaporeans jumped in the first quarter to its highest since 2005 as a slump in global trade pummeled the city-state's exports and sparked manufacturing layoffs.
The unemployment rate rose to a seasonally adjusted 3.2 percent in March from 2.5 percent in December and 1.9 percent in March 2008, Singapore's Manpower Ministry said in a statement Thursday.
The manufacturing sector lost 19,900 jobs in the first three months of the year, up from 7,000 jobs lost in the fourth quarter, the ministry said.
"Unless the recovery is swift, further job losses probably lie ahead of us," said Kit Wei Zheng, an analyst with Citigroup in Singapore.
The global recession has hurt Singapore's most important industries of trade, finance and tourism. The economy contracted 11.5 percent in the first quarter from a year earlier, the biggest drop since independence from Malaysia in 1965.
The government announced a $13 billion stimulus package in January—including a company subsidy for 12 percent of the first $1,662 of every employee's monthly wages hich has helped to keep joblessness from surging even higher, Kit said.
"The labor market may not see the worst case scenario initially feared, and the unemployment rate this year could fall slightly below our current forecast of 4.8 percent," Kit said.