[Outlook] A New Deal for the times

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[Outlook] A New Deal for the times

When you read the newspapers these days, you get the impression that the government is pouring out money for people in need.

The Ministry of Labor is increasing the budget for creation of social service jobs. Financial support has also been extended through dormant bank accounts and microcredit.

On March 12, the Blue House reportedly confirmed emergency measures aimed at stabilizing the livelihoods of the people, which would release around 6 trillion won ($4.2 billion).

The measures include a program in which 860,000 people who have lost their jobs or their businesses and 500,000 households with elderly or disabled family members will be provided with cash or coupons for half a year.

It seems that the Ministry of Strategy and Finance’s efforts at handling the current difficulties were reflected in the decision.

Other programs included in the measures, intended to overcome youth unemployment also draw attention.

The central government has created an educational internship project under which it will deploy assistant teachers to schools.

The government also has another program to send 50,000 young people abroad over five years so they can get volunteer work experience and do internships.

Local governments have raised 10 billion won ($7.1 million), including money that employers in the city of Seoul have returned, and will invest the money to hire 1,000 young interns.

Other ministries and local governments are implementing various projects to create jobs. A plan to build the Gyeongin waterway and another to revive rivers are connected with the goal of creating jobs.

As government-led public projects to build canals, restore rivers, send talented youths abroad and send teachers out to schools have all been mixed together, the term “New Deal” is used too often these days, as in the “Education New Deal.”

One wonders if the government understands the true meaning of what the New Deal was. The American New Deal, which was centered on tax increases, was drawn up by United States President Franklin Roosevelt through political consensus after World War I.

If we call a measure to temporarily release a huge amount of money in a difficult time a New Deal, the late Roosevelt would laugh out loud from his grave.

First of all, it is important to note that the youths of our time are not like those from the past New Deal era, or when manufacturing was a major industry.

According to the American author Daniel Pink, we have shifted from the information age to a conceptual one.

It isn’t right to connect youths who live in the conceptual age to the New Deal of the past, which evokes images of public works jobs.

We can help them develop their talents in the IT field inside and outside our country at a range of activities such as maintaining geographic information, databasing signboards, debugging, or volunteer work teaching people how to use computers.

They can work as game planners or in the animation field. They can work as docents for cultural heritage sites. They can be storytellers, work in design, or help save the environment.

We can also have a program to respond to an increasingly gray population. Within several years, demand for professional service industry workers who take care of the elderly will surge considerably.

Nowadays, as many families fall apart due to financial difficulties, more people need counselors to provide help to those dealing with unemployment or family issues.

Demand for people who can visit families to give aid is increasing as well. We need to prepare a system of support before people fall into poverty, or monitor those at risk to prevent such cases from happening.

These jobs require a large workforce. The manpower available to help disabled people live on their own is not sufficient at all.

If our youths are employed in these areas, our society will become warmer, more humane and will be better able to handle crises that strike our society.

There is also a high possibility that these young people might remain in the field and continue to work as professionals after their internship periods are over.

The ministries of strategy and finance, labor and health, welfare and family affairs, along with others as necessary must form a joint body to implement these plans.

They need to prepare measures to provide step-by-step support for youths who work in these fields to become professionals or entrepreneurs in one or two years.

A soft human New Deal will bear a deeper meaning and send a stronger message to the people than the underground bunker at the Blue House.

I hope that the government will change its frame of mind, make its vision more concrete and think more seriously about how to implement its strategies.

The writer is a professor of social welfare policy at the University of Seoul. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Lee Sung-gyu
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