The pain of unemployment is worsening as the economic outlook becomes more bleak.

More out-of-work residents are taking a longer time to find work, according to third-quarter labour figures released yesterday by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM).

It spells bad news for workers because the longer they are out of work, the harder it is to land a job and command good wages, said economists interviewed.

The figures show 0.8 per cent of Singaporeans and permanent residents in the labour force were jobless for at least 25 weeks, as of September this year. At the same time last year, it was 0.6 per cent.

This latest long-term unemployment rate was also the highest for September since the global financial crisis in 2009.

The problem was more acute for those aged 50 and older, with 1 per cent caught in the situation.

Overall, the number of long-term unemployed residents totalled 17,600 as of September this year.

If retrenchment continues to rise and employment growth remains weak, more people will join this group, said Credit Suisse economist Michael Wan.

"Long-term unemployment is worrying because people's skills and relevance to companies will atrophy over time," he added.

This is especially true in fast-changing, technology-driven industries.

With more people out of work for long periods, the economy also does not perform at its full potential.

"It is a waste of people's productive capacity while they are still in their prime working years," said United Overseas Bank economist Francis Tan.

MOM's figures show fewer layoffs during July to September than the previous three months.

But the picture is not rosy when the first nine months of the year are taken into account: Layoffs reached a peak of 13,730, the highest for the period since 2009.

Fewer job openings are also an obstacle for job seekers.

There were 50,800 openings in September, down 10 per cent from 56,500 a year earlier, after taking into account seasonal variations.

In fact, for two quarters in a row, there were fewer openings than job seekers: 91 for every 100 unemployed people as of September.

This seasonally adjusted ratio was worse than in June, when it was 93 for every 100 jobless workers.

It would be wise to prepare for higher unemployment and higher long-term unemployment rates, said SIM University economist Walter Theseira.

"The weakness we are seeing today has been gradually building up in the past few years, with high costs and only moderate improvements in productivity," he said.

But he noted that Singapore's current unemployment rates were still very good against those of other advanced economies.

Yesterday's figures largely confirmed preliminary data the ministry released in late October.

Overall, the unemployment rate in September remained at 2.1 per cent after accounting for seasonal variations. The rate for citizens was 3 per cent, and for permanent residents, 2.9 per cent. The comparative figures in June were3.1 per cent and 3 per cent, respectively.

Singapore had about 3.7 million people employed as of September, which was 2,700 fewer than in June.

The main reason is there are fewer work permit holders in manufacturing and construction, said MOM.

It added: "The subdued labour market performance for the (manufacturing) sector is likely to extend into the fourth quarter of 2016 as manufacturing firms expect to hire fewer workers, especially for transport and precision engineering."

On the other hand, hiring is expected to pick up in the services sector during the year-end festive season, the ministry said.