[EDITORIALS]Poverty in KoreaIt is disheartening to read a research finding that the number of people who suffer from absolute poverty in our society grew from 5.9 percent of the total population in 1996 to 11.4 percent in 2000. As their disposable income is below the minimum living cost, they can hardly manage their daily lives. One out of ten families in our society is in such a miserable state. And the number of such households has increased more than two times in four years.
While Korea went through the ordeal of the foreign exchange crisis in 1997-98, its middle class broke down rapidly because of massive layoffs and wage cuts. According to the research results, the collapse didn’t stop at the disintegration of the middle class, but it has even led the middle class to fall into absolute poverty. Unlike the case of handing down poverty from generation to generation, heads of households in their 40s and 50s who could support their families without trouble became homeless people and their family members fell into absolute poverty.
More serious is that there is no possibility that the problem will be solved. According to a research carried out by the Korea Development Institute in 2000, the number of people belonging to a potential poverty group, who were likely to fall into an absolute poverty group, amounted to 4.7 percent of total population. As the economy has been bad since then, the number in the poverty group may have gotten bigger. According to a survey of the National Statistical Office, 31.9 percent of the nation’s 14.3 million households manage their living with borrowed money. A large part of 4 million credit losers could end up in absolute poverty. When people in poverty grow in number, they become the source of social conflict, confrontation and unrest.
We shouldn’t leave alone such a dead angel in our society. Of course, job creation is the solution. But it is urgent and desperate to wait until economic recovery. The government has the duty to expand, by executing a welfare budget effectively, a social safety net so that these people will find no difficulties in managing their daily lives. If campaigns like the JoongAng Ilbo’s “Welfare, Education Start” spread to various walks of life, it will help make our society better.