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November suffers first job decline in last four months

A drop of 10,000 positions dampens economic optimism  PLAY AUDIO

Dec 17,2009
The number of jobs decreased for the first time in four months last month, somewhat dampening widespread optimism that the economy is cruising on its way to recovery.

The president and Finance Ministry have said that job creation is the top economic policy priority for next year.

Statistics Korea yesterday said that there were 23.8 million jobs in November, down 10,000 from the same month a year earlier. That came after a three-month on-year job increase streak through October.

Job creation in several private sectors remained sluggish, but a substantial job decline in the farming, forestry and fisheries sectors were the decisive factor in the last month’s job decline, Korea’s official statistics agency reported. Those combined sectors lost 151,000 jobs last month, marking the biggest job decline since the statistics agency began to combine the three sectors in January 2004.

Statistics Korea, however, attributed the decline to one-time factors. A one-week-long data collection was done a week later in November than a year earlier and the temperature was lower, all contributing to a steeper employment decline in the seasonally sensitive sector.

Other sectors combined saw an increase of 141,000 jobs, making it the first time more than 100,000 jobs were created from a year earlier since August 2008.

The public sector had 474,000 more jobs than a year ago, sparked by the government’s 4.7 trillion won ($4.0 billion) job creation project. The manufacturing and construction sectors lost 43,000 and 115,000 jobs, respectively.

“The substantial job increase in the non-farming, forestry and fishery sectors could be a sign that the economic recovery is spreading into the job market,” said Jeong In-sook, a Statistics Korea official.

Some experts disagreed.

Sohn Min-jung, a labor economist with the Samsung Economic Research Institute, said the November data were bleaker than he had predicted.

Last month, the labor force participation rate, or the ratio of the workforce to the population, fell by 0.7 percentage points from a year earlier to 61.1 percent.

Sohn said that indicates that more people have stopped searching for work out of frustration. “The lackluster job market picture may continue for a considerable time,” he said.

Meanwhile, the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate last month was 3.5 percent, data showed. That is up 0.1 percentage point from a year earlier, but is still the lowest among the 30 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries, the agency said.

Choi Kyung-soo, a researcher at the Korea Development Institute, cautioned against reading too much into the data. Korea’s reluctance to lay off workers together with people’s reluctance to reveal they are unemployed are keeping the figure low, he said.


By Moon Gwang-lip [joe@joongang.co.kr]






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