11.5k is average or below average household income, says Donald Low

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In a widely-shared Facebook post, Donald Low responded to an article published in The New Paper (TNP) regarding the Lee family, who had a combined five-figure monthly income. Mr. Low drew attention to the negative comments made toward the Lee family wish list concerning Budget 2018, and proposed solutions that would benefit society as a whole.

The TNP article, dated February 12, had focused on a family that earned five figures monthly from the father’s full-time and mother’s part-time job, speculating that the combined income to be around $11,000. However, with Mrs. Serene Lee having had heart surgery which required her to be on expensive medicines, a son in polytechnic school, an older daughter with the costly extracurricular activity of sailing, and their youngest child needing extra tuition, she said that the family was suffering, and hoped to get more when the 2018 budget is announced, to ease the family’s financial burdens. The Lee family also have a maid. Many responded to the article, saying that the family ought to prioritize better by having the children help around the house, instead of hiring a maid, as well as the daughter choosing a less expensive CCA.

In his post, Mr. Low first challenged the idea that the Lee family has a higher income than many others, since based on his calculations, their income is “very much an average or even below average Singaporean household.”

He then goes on to draw attention to the flak the family received with Mrs. Lee expressing the desire to get more in terms of government allowances and subsidies, even though in theory people are compassionate toward the middle class who feel the financial pinch. He wrote, “It’s also quite interesting that people here are sympathetic to the idea of the ‘squeezed middle’ in the abstract but when they are confronted with a family which is exactly that, they react negatively and pass judgement on its failure to prioritise or to distinguish between needs and wants. We’re fast becoming a low trust society that views everything in zero-sum terms: more for the middle income necessarily means less for the poor, or higher taxes on the rich.”

He went on to discuss ways to fund and distribute social goods such as child care, that are less expensive than private financing, acknowledging that these would require an increase in taxes. However, Mr. Low emphasizes that this would benefit families, as it would mean a decrease in household expenses.

Financing these things collectively, and making their provision universal, is likely to be cheaper for society as a whole. People are likely to quibble about the higher taxes they have to pay, but that’s because they ignore the fact that their private spending on these things will go down by more.”

To end his post, Mr. Low said that he did not think that the country is headed in this direction, because where there is a high income inequality in a society, there is also a low level of social trust, which makes individuals reluctant to pay more taxes in order to fund better social goods together. “When we don’t trust fellow citizens, we are more likely to see them as undeserving scroungers exploiting society’s largesse.”

This means, according to him, that with no increase in taxes, the government cannot execute programs and services that would decrease the gap in income inequality.

Many netizens agreed with Mr. Low, however, some singles felt that subsidies should go to the elderly and poor in society

Others agreed that the Lee family had been unfairly judged

Other netizens disagreed with Mr. Low’s premise that the Lee family is part of the “squeezed middle”

41 COMMENTS

    • Twenty years ago the Military Security Department paid me only 1200 Sing dollars per month for translating from Malay to English and it reckoned it had been paying me hang of a lot of money. In was supporting two young offspring. And one cannot criticise it for Low balling because it is secret work and it deals on all matters on the defence of this little red dot. It was very poor and this made me poor till now.


  1. *****
    There r 2 persons out out in the sea:
    i. a non-swimmer struggling to keep afloat, &
    ii. a swimmer who is yelling to get on the boat.
    Who really need help?

  2. Average income? If you have ten people in a room, nine are jobless and one person earning a million, the average income in that room is $100,000. It just means that the rich in Singapore earn so much that it pushes the average income high. Now, why didn’t he talk about the MEDIAN income instead?

    Going by MOM’s latest press release this month, that particular family would be earning above the median household income in Singapore. Why didn’t he choose to use that figure instead, but chose to use the average household income? When you have economists playing with statistics to present a distorted picture, it is no wonder trust is eroded in society.

    • Loke Fook Seng, nope. I read his original post. He said (and meant) average household income. His words… unless he doesn’t know what that term means and used it wrongly. In which case, his credibility as an economist is suspect.

  3. I think a lot of all these incomes are working in gov and gov linked companies and SAF…how many are from private sectors that really need to fight and struggles to prove their worth instead of supported by tax payers money?

  4. If household income per capita is 3.6k and household income is 11k, does it mean that there are on AVERAGE 3 income earners per household?

    How does this reconcile with the nuclear family concept with TFR2.1? One adult kid earning income?

  5. This is exactly how a society collapses. The upper middle to rich classes getting more self entitled and wanting everything to themselves, just like that Lee family as mentioned. Have they ever thought that to demand subsidies for their pampered children to take SAILING (WTF?) class, more tax need to be squeezed from the poor as well ? Anyway history has taught us how the roman empire or the Qing dynasty collapse. People just dun learn.

  6. Based on his calculations, my family of 4 must be hovering over the poverty line eg I can’t change to a newer cheaper credit card as I don’t meet their income criteria – – which my friends will surely

  7. This money no enough spendthrift family no end. Govt increase their subsidy there’s a possibility they’ll send their spoilt kids to golf courses to get them into nation’s limelight.

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  9. Dafts are shooting the wrong birds.
    This episode clearly shows that the cost of living is very high here for many, only a very privileged few are living it easy.
    What is the greedy government doing to help? More taxes or more lies?The burden of this so-call middle class family should be reduced and so are the burdens of many more families less well off than this. The PAP government has been milking the society, they are the root cause of the current problems.

  10. It boils down to the lifestyle choice. The number of restaurants, cafes, coffee chains, fast food outlets far exceeds the number of hawker centres yet these former places are often packed while many hawker centres patronage is dropping. This is an example of rising lifestyle choice that is becoming routine but it is not cheap. For a wealthy person, he/she may need 20k monthly for personal upkeep, while a low paid worker makes do and lives reasonably with 1-2k. Not possible to have all one wishes, not talking about those living on or below subsistence level, so one needs to live within one’s means. The urgent problem lies with those struggling with basic needs.

  11. “Financing these things collectively, and making their provision universal, is likely to be cheaper for society as a whole.”
    Remember the universal health insurance policy? The only ones whom insurance became cheaper was the un-insurable. Everyone else paid more to subsidise for this small group of people. When will they government do more to support it’s own policy instead of asking the people to pay for them?

  12. Median household income is less than $9000.
    Says department of statistics.
    Average is not median. That is a mean use of stats!

  13. Pretty much confirms that here you need a monthly salary of 5000/mth as minimum but most are making about 40% undervthe minimum
    So instead of raising taxes maybe ummmm i dunno cut them? Also take a look why companies are uunderpaying much. Liquidy crisis? And then take a superhard look at Temask and liquidate it. The money saved can go into our pockets for a change

  14. Income go up, lifestyle go up, debt go up. Complain. Earn 20k also not enough if spend 25k. Just look at the number of continental cars in hdb areas. For some, dunno is it just because want face or really able to afford.

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