[OUTLOOK]A parent’s worry about jobsPerhaps it is because my own children have now reached the age where they must find jobs, but I feel the seriousness of the unemployment situation more acutely these days. When I attended weddings in the past, I would just briefly show my face and hand in my traditional congratulatory money before leaving. But these days, I stay until the end and ask discreetly about the wedding costs. Weddings become so more real when it will soon be your own turn to marry off your children.
I had always thought the parents’ duty to their children ended with educating them. After we help them finish their studies, our children would get jobs on their own and get married through their own choice and efforts.
These days, however, I can’t help feeling that this is not quite the case. We live in a world of increasing competition and I honestly can’t help worrying how weak and helpless my children are to face these harsh and difficult times. With the rising youth unemployment rate, I am not the only parent who is watching with anxiety as their children rush frantically around to look for employment. Recently, the most worrisome economic index has been the unemployment rate, especially the youth unemployment rate. Debate over the growth rate doesn’t help improve the situation. With the 5-percent growth rate that the government has set as our goal, the unemployment rate is expected to rise even higher. As the employment effect of growth has fallen greatly these days, economic growth does not lead to an increase in jobs as in the past. Therefore, the biggest task that the Korean economy faces is to solve the youth unemployment problem; that is, to find jobs for the thousands of young people who have finished their education and are entering society. This is perhaps the biggest and foremost reason people are so worried about the future. Society is stable only when households are stable. If a situation unfolds in which children finding employment gets ever more difficult, while the head of the family is retiring, how can we expect a society filled with such families be stable?
Thinking of our current economic situation and environment, we cannot help feeling desperate. Moreover, it seems likely that we won’t get much help from a government that is controlled by those who advocate wealth redistribution. However, the government is not the only one to blame. We are the ones who made the situation get this serious. Think of how we raised our children. If the gross domestic product per capita can be seen as the average income of that country, didn’t we raise our children in a living standard affordable at the income level of $30,000 to $40,000, while we were earning less than $10,000? I am not here to criticize the love parents feel for their children. But the ones who provided the cause for making their pain and conflict grow bigger are their parents who raised them with blind love.
The young people of Korea have fundamentally different calculations about their own worth or expected returns from those of their parents’ generation. Children who were raised on an income of $30,000 to $40,000 ― despite the social reality that we were living on a $10,000-level income ― would naturally expect their social status to be on a level of that higher figure Because our children were given abundant allowances to spend as they pleased ever since they were little, their standards for earning and spending are far higher than those of their parents. Thus, their standards for choosing and evaluating careers have become higher as well.
They do not even glance at what falls short of these standards. Ultimately, our unemployment situation today is that of a $30,000-income society. Our children would rather remain unemployed than have grease on their faces or soak their hands in dishwater. If they don’t get employed, they know that they could always stick it out in their parents’ house and no Korean parent would throw their children out of the house because they are already adults. This is a social problem that has existed in Japan for a long time.
To these youths, not all jobs are jobs. They refuse difficult jobs even when offered. They don’t care that planeloads of foreign laborers are landing every day. Even well-known big businesses in the regional industrial complexes such as Gumi are having trouble finding new employees despite the fact that they offer wages no less than that offered by businesses in Seoul. Something is seriously wrong with the economic picture. We can’t blame our children only. It is the hubris of Korean parents who raised children to become blind to the realities of the world. It is their fault and their responsibility. It is depressing to think how hard our competitors are working while we are lagging behind.
* The writer is the chief economic correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Lee Chang-kyu