[EDITORIALS]Coping with a gray societyToday is the Day of the Aged, the seventh annual event. An aging society is one where persons older than 65 account for more than 10 percent of the population, and Korea is expected to be at that point in 2010, just seven years from now. A low birth rate and longer life spans are making Korea the country with the fastest aging rate in the world.
But the government is not prepared, and the private sector is not capable of coping with the problem. The rising number of elderly people who have to skip meals reflects that inattention. According to a survey by a welfare foundation, 47 percent of the elderly living alone skip at least one meal a day. More than 100,000 elderly persons use free meal services supported by the government, but that budget has not increased since 2000. No wonder the suicide rate among the elderly is 2.3 times higher than in the general population. Seven aged men a day take their own lives.
Both the government and nongovernmental groups must cooperate to come up with measures to get ready for our coming gray society. In the short term, the government must build a full-fledged medical and welfare system and provide homeless elderly persons with the necessities of life. We need an effort in education to revive respect for the elderly and filial piety to provide elders a comfortable family home. But most important is more jobs for the elderly. That accomplishes two purposes: providing them with incomes and with self-respect and a new purpose in life.
For the longer term, both government and voluntary agencies must do some serious research to identify problems arising from an aging society and prepare plans to overcome social stagnation, the biggest problem an aging society may face.
Pan-governmental approaches should be used to come up with policies such as a later retirement age, lifelong education, reemployment opportunities and volunteer work for the elderly.
The government should keep in mind that if it cannot handle an aging society, our national competitive power will be exhausted, leaving Korea as a third-rate country.