Back at work, senior citizens slog through ‘retirement’

Home > Culture > Features

print dictionary print

Back at work, senior citizens slog through ‘retirement’


By 2030, the National Statistical Office says, the average life span of Koreans will have risen by three years, bringing it to 79.2 years for men and 85.2 years for women. That means a person retiring today will still have 20 or 30 years left to live, but most Koreans that age grew up in a far tougher time and had little chance to prepare for their retirement. Many senior citizens will have to keep working, even if theirs jobs are less than glamorous. The JoongAng Ilbo recently looked at the lives of two working senior citizens.

Min Hee-won, 67, sat among 20 other senior citizen co-workers, listening to the president of the delivery company he works for remind them how to do their jobs. “Don’t get your items confused with other items,” his boss said. It was 9:40 a.m. on June 22, and Mr. Min had been hearing this almost every day for eight months now at the office near Euljiro 1-ga station, on line No. 2.
The business works similarly to Korea’s “Quick Service” motorcycle courier fleet, but without the bikes. Customers located relatively close to a subway station call the company to ask for a pickup, which the employee then takes to its destination ― another place relatively close to a subway station.
At 10 a.m., Mr. Min was assigned the day’s first task ― take a dress from a shop in Myeongdong to a dress shop near Junggye station. On the way to Euljiro 1-ga station after the pickup, he got a phone call from the office ― take a piece of clothing from the Lotte Department Store in central Seoul to the branch in Jamsil, eastern Seoul. That destination was added while he was en route to Junggye. Later, he got more phone calls, one sending him to a department store in Nowon, northern Seoul, and another to a clothing repair shop in Geumcheon district, western Seoul.
It was 12:30 p.m. when he arrived at the department store in Nowon. He decided to have lunch at the food court at the department store. He ordered spiced cold noodles for 5,000 won ($5.22) and finished the meal in five minutes. “I don’t have much time. Sometimes I have to run,” Mr. Min said.
At 12:40 p.m. he headed to Gasan Digital Complex station, line No. 1.
“I used to sell wooden sticks to instant noodle companies. I made a good amount of money, but I went bankrupt over an unpaid bill. Moneylenders bled me dry,” he said. He got a job as a guard in an art gallery in 1995. After seeing that he did have a job, the lenders cut some of his debts. Mr. Min quit when he turned 62, and worked as a security guard at a warehouse for construction materials for three years. But when he reached 65, he had to leave the job. There was little else to do other than become a subway delivery man.
“About half of senior citizens who say they want this job don’t stay for a month, some because of health problems and some because they worry about their reputation. There was one who didn’t show up the day after he met a friend while he was out delivering,” Mr. Min said. After arriving at Gasan Digital Complex station, he searched for his destination for about 20 minutes; there had been a miscommunication. The repair shop was actually near Guro Digital Complex station. After picking up three pieces near Euljiro 1-ga to deliver them to a place near Yeouinaru station, he went to the repair shop in Guro again to pick up the dress. It was 6:30 p.m., and he had to go back to the department store in Nowon.
Mr. Min said the job pays him 750,000 won a month. His wife, 64, makes 250,000 won taking care of kids. They save 300,000 won a month and spend the rest.
“That’s enough. I don’t need to ask my children to back me up, and I can even buy some toys for my grandchildren,” Mr. Min said.
At 7:42 p.m., when he got to Nowon station, Mr. Min started running, because he had to make his delivery before the department store closed at 8. He got there at 7:50 p.m., an hour late. His job for the day finished, he looked tired.
When asked how long he plans to stay on the job he said, “I want to do it as long as I can walk. Strangely, I get sick when I stay at home.” He had delivered nine pieces of clothing, collected 50,000 won and passed 121 subways stations that day.


Ok Yoon-cheon, 71, who retired from Nowon District Office 10 years ago, is proud to have found a job at Korea Electric Power Industrial Development. After he retired, he once sold chicken meat and later opened a comic book store. Neither was financially successful. For the last three years, he visited job fairs, went after openings advertised in newspapers, but never got a callback. He was too old to be a security guard for an apartment building, though many recommended him for a job in multilevel marketing. In February, he applied for a job at the power company after seeing that it was looking for employees over 65 years old. About 1,100 people applied for the 20 positions, and Mr. Ok squeezed through. He now delivers electric bills to 5,000 households in Banghak-dong, northern Seoul.
The job isn’t as easy as it looks. He delivers about 200 to 300 bills a day, and it takes about four to six hours including two to three hours sorting the bills in his office.
“When I went there for the first time, I felt I was hopeless. But after the second time, I caught on to the idea of the job,” he said.
He received his first paycheck ― 800,000 won ― on June 10. “I was moved, because I had received a salary again, regardless of the amount of money,” Mr. Ok said. He was so happy that he bought dinner for his children and grandchildren. “I feel like the children look at me differently now that I make money.”
He said he’s satisfied with his current job, but said there should be more quality jobs for the elderly. “It seems that the government is focusing on the low birth rate, but not actively working on the issue of senior citizens,” he said. “The government provides jobs with a monthly pay of 200,000 won to 300,000 won for senior citizens, but that’s just a pastime. It should try to make more jobs that pay 700,000 to 800,000 won a month,” he added.

Mr. Min’s schedule (June 22)

9:30 a.m. Goes to work near Euljiro 1-ga subway station.
10 a.m. Picks up two pieces of clothing at a shop in Myeongdong.
10:30 a.m. Picks up a dress from the Lotte Department Store in central Seoul.
11:20 a.m. Takes the dress to the Lotte Department Store in Jamsil.
12:00 p.m. Takes two pieces to a shop near Junggye subway station.
12:30 p.m. Picks up two pieces of clothing at the Lotte Department Store in Nowon.
1:50 p.m. Delivers a piece of clothing to a shop near Gasan Digital Complex subway station.
3:30 p.m. Makes a delivery to a repair shop near Guro Digital Complex station.
4:20 p.m. Picks up three pieces of clothing at Euljiro 1-ga subway station.
5:10 p.m. Deliver the pieces to a shop in LG Twin Building, Yeouido.
6:15 p.m. Picks up clothing from the repair shop near Guro Digital Complex subway station.
7:50 p.m. Delivers it to Lotte Department Store in Nowon.

by Special Reporting Team
Log in to Twitter or Facebook account to connect
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
help-image Social comment?
lock icon

To write comments, please log in to one of the accounts.

Standards Board Policy (0/250자)