[View point]Senior careNo one imagined that beautiful Deukryang Bay in South Jeolla, which is known for unpolluted waters, the pleasant breeze blowing in from the sea and the fragrance of tea from nearby plantations, would become a sea of horror for tourists.
When four bodies of young men and women were found in the sea, no one imagined that the suspected murderer would be an old man in his 70s. Although he has led the life of a fisherman until a late age, it was hard to believe that the youths lost their lives so easily at the hands of an old man. We can perhaps treat the old man simply as a brutal lunatic, but there is an uncomfortable truth behind the story.
In the American presidential election in 2000, the power of senior citizens was fully demonstrated, particularly in Florida, where the competition was very close. It seemed that Florida was the turf of George W. Bush, the Republican Party candidate. That’s because Florida is the state with the largest number of senior citizens and its governor was the younger brother of George W. Bush. However, the result was the opposite. More senior citizens supported Al Gore, the Democratic Party candidate who pledged to improve the medical insurance system for the elderly.
In the United States, there is no place for politicians to hide if they evade problems related to the aged. Even Fortune Magazine listed the American Association of Retired People as the most influential organization in the United States.
The situation in South Korea is no different. The Central Committee of the Korean Old People’s Association presented a seven-point proposal for the welfare of senior citizens, including the introduction of payment of an old-age pension and giving tax deductions to senior citizens who own property, to politicians at the legislative elections in 1999.
How could the lawmakers ignore the proposal?
Old folks nowadays are different from those in the past. They still have passion as strong as they had in their youth, on top of their rich experiences.
They also have enough physical strength. It is not rare to find people in their 70s who are as physically fit as people in their 50s due to steady exercise and good health care. Some scholars say we shouldn’t call people who age so slowly a “new generation.” But still, our society tries ruthlessly to drive them out.
There is no other way to explain the reason the number of prison inmates over the age of 60 has more than doubled in 10 years, from 578 in 1997 to 1,099.
In a striking contrast, the number of criminals under the age of 25 was more than halved during the same period.
This is why we cannot overlook the serial killings at Deukryang Bay as simply bizarre homicides.
The warning that our society will become an elderly one very soon was issued some time ago, and few solutions were presented.
It is a pity that they only include a stereotypical local festivals and programs, such as health-related lectures to senior citizens or longevity celebrations at village centers.
We must change our way of thinking completely.
Job creation should be the first priority. Even if the reward is small, senior citizens should be able to take pride in a job and feel worthwhile. There must be jobs that only the aged can do. There must be jobs through which they can share their accumulated experiences and knowledge with others. We must create new jobs that have never existed before.
The problem is money, but there must be a way.
For example, we can save a large amount if we do not spend money on such consumptive projects as hasty changing pavement blocks of sidewalks at the end of a year.
If we start giving incentives to public organizations that save money on their budgets, we could probably raise a considerable amount to devote to job creation. We can also consider creating an old-age fund by accumulating dormant deposits at banks over a certain period of time.
If we use 800 billion won ($873 million) donated by Samsung Group for youths, we should be able to use the 1 trillion won promised by Hyundai Group toward the problems faced by senior citizens.
Our society has become too old to postpone things like this.
Yi Ik, a Joseon Dynasty scholar who belonged to a realistic school, said the retirement age of 70 was too young. Now, we are living in a world where the average life span is twice as long as it was then.
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Lee Hoon-beom