[EDITORIALS]The hardening of povertyThe gap between the rich and poor has become a systemic problem in Korea, growing with globalization, which stresses competition, and with the 1997-1998 Asian financial crisis. The situation of the lowest social classes is in fact more serious than has been generally understood, as was well illustrated in the JoongAng Ilbo’s recent special report.
According to our survey, 60 percent of those in extreme poverty, earning less than the government-estimated minimum income needed to live in Seoul, said their parents had been poor, too. Thirty-three percent said they were in their third generation of poverty. There is a saying that the No. 1 asset of the poor is health, but on top of inherited poverty, many of them had bad health, too.
Korea has long consoled itself that, compared to the advanced countries, there is still opportunity for class mobility here. But social class has become more rigid as Korean society has stabilized since the 1980s. Even in education, the main way for the poor to overcome poverty, things have changed. With more emphasis on competition, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer in education opportunity, too, and this intensifies the inheritance of poverty. It is a dilemma in an information society, where it is almost impossible to catch up with competition without knowledge.
Individuals are themselves responsible for their own poverty. But if that poverty is inherited, it becomes a social problem. A healthy society must provide a level playing field ― at least, as level as possible at the starting line. To reduce poverty, we need first to re-examine the current system. The government must expand vocational training opportunities for those who are willing and able to work. It also must make some alterations in the current social welfare system, under which some people, though in abject poverty, may not qualify for government aid if they do not meet rigid government criteria.
But such help in livelihood or health care alone will not be enough to pull the poor out of poverty. We ask the government to contemplate more practical ways to bring education to the poor, focusing on improving their individual values and quality of employment.