Koreans slipping out of middle class, says survey

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Koreans slipping out of middle class, says survey

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Half the Korean people consider themselves in the low-income bracket, with declining expectations for mobility within and between income classes, according to a report by the Hyundai Research Institute (HRI) yesterday.

The report, entitled “The Confidence of the Middle Class Is Crumbling,” is based on a survey of 1,011 adults nationwide, aged 20 and older. It said 50.1 percent of the respondents classified themselves as low income.

The 50.1 percent was three times higher than the 15.2 percent low-class rate calculated by the government-run Statistics Korea last year based on the amount of families’ disposable income, according to the report by Kim Dong-yeol, a senior research fellow at HRI, the private economic research institute.

Among those surveyed, self-proclaimed low-income respondents accounted for 34.6 percent, while those who said they were “once middle class but are now low class” was 15.5 percent. Those who said their class level has fallen accounted for 19.1 percent.

On the other side of the fence, 46.4 percent regarded themselves as the middle class, in contrast to a 64 percent middle class result by Statistics Korea last year.

Only 1.9 percent said they belonged to the high-income class, far below the 20.8 percent of high-income respondents in the Statistics Korea survey last year.

As to whether movement within or between social classes is possible, a sweeping 98.1 percent replied “unlikely.”

To answer why, 36.3 percent said Korea had a “polarization in process,” 21.5 percent said “sluggish economic sentiment,” 12.1 percent pointed to a “lack of jobs,” and 11.4 blamed “excessive debt.”

As to why people felt they had slipped down the social ladder, there was a difference in response in age groups.

Respondents in their 20s blamed an “unstable job market” and “unemployment.” People in their 30s blamed “debt payments on mortgages and housing bought after marriage.”

People in their 40s blamed “excessive spending on children’s education.”

As for people in their 50s, 37.4 percent said they had suffered a reduction in income, 16.5 percent said they had unstable jobs and 7.7 percent were unemployed, according to the survey.

“Tailored policy measures by age group are necessary to expand the middle class, such as creating jobs for 20s and 50s, a soft landing for the household debt of people in their 30s and relieving private education expenses for people in their 40s,” said researcher Kim.

By Kim Jung-yoon [kjy@joongang.co.kr]

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