The unnecessary pain of growing up

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The unnecessary pain of growing up


When I visited my husband’s family for the Lunar New Year, I had a conversation with my nephew who was soon joining the military. For the last year after graduating from high school, he has worked various temp jobs, since he did not get into a college and could not find regular employment. The work was physically exhausting and he had trouble receiving the wages.

The worst was the night shift at a convenience store. He worked from 10 p.m. to 8 a.m. for an hourly wage of 3,500 won ($3.12). The owner ignored both the minimum wage of 4,580 won per hour and weekend and overtime pay. He did sign a contract, but it was not in his favor at all. He was bound to work at least three months, and if he had quit before that time, half of the previous month’s pay would be forfeited. He was obliged to find someone to fill his position. When the total didn’t add up, he had to fill in the difference with his own money. He was not given a meal or a break. He said, “The one with no power suffers.” He is only twenty, and it was heartbreaking to see the young man’s frustration and struggle.

Recently, a mother declared a war on Twitter. “To the owner of the cafe near exit 11 of the subway station, my daughter worked for the month of December and was not paid her 63,000 won. If you don’t pay her, I will eat you. You gave a bitter experience to my precious daughter as she became a grownup member of the society. I will not let you get away!”

The daughter worked at the cafe part-time after she had been accepted to a college. The mother was furious not because of the money, but the fact that her daughter’s trust in social rules had been destroyed.

I worked my way through college, moonlighting as a live-in tutor and selling household goods door-to-door. I thought I had a hard time, but in retrospect, I was rather fortunate. People were sympathetic and encouraged me, and finding a job was not very hard. Nowadays, young people are scratching and clawing to land even a bad job. The price of labor is dropping, and youth are feeling increasingly helpless and frustrated. Jobs are scarce in areas other than Seoul, and high-school graduates have a harder time than college graduates. Workers for small stores suffer more than employees at large companies.

How can I give my nephew courage and hope? Youth brings pain, and we have to struggle to grow up. However, young people shouldn’t have to endure more suffering than is their lot.

The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

Lee Na-ri
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