Our national loss of hopeThe 2011 society survey by Statistics Korea reveals the diminishing hopes for better living standards among the middle class and growing frustration over wealth polarization. In the survey, 52.8 percent of the population considered themselves to be middle class, an all-time low since data started being compiled in 1988. Worse, they were pessimistic about the future. Just 41.7 percent believed their children would enjoy higher social and economic rank than themselves, and 42.9 percent said their children would likely be worse off. In short, the Korean people are losing hope and confidence.
The poll is psychological, not factual. The Gini coefficient, which measures income inequality, edged up to 0.310 last year from 0.314 in 2009. According to American economist Hollis B. Chenery, Korea’s income inequality is low by international standards. But our income inequality score has been worsening since the 2008 financial crisis, and last year’s improvement was mostly due to government stimulus. Moreover, homeownership is relatively low while household debt is growing fast. The benefits of economic development largely went to large companies, and job security is mostly claimed by employees on permanent payrolls at large companies. Meanwhile, the larger part of society - irregular workers and poor elderly citizens - struggle to get by.
Young people in their 20s cannot find jobs. Workers in their 30s and 40s are burdened with insecure futures, debt payments and murderous education costs. More and more retired people can’t get pension benefits. Without relief, society could explode at any time. A society can hardly be deemed healthy and hopeful if more than half of the population believe they are going nowhere. In order to sustain our society, efforts should be made to revive the middle class and breathe new hope into their lives.
Jobs are the answer. The government must deregulate the services sector to create more jobs. In the long run, our society must go through fundamental changes. The government has been obsessed with economic growth and has left other social problems to individuals to solve. The government should shoulder greater responsibility for welfare and social security, and people will start to hope again.