Get aggressive with job seekersAccording to latest research by the Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs, the poverty exit rate dropped to 28.8 percent in 2009 from 32.6 percent in 2006. That’s testament to the grim reality that once people fall into poverty, they can hardly get out of it. The research result is congruous with conventional wisdom, too. Research by a civilian institute says that a whopping 98 percent of the population believe that upward social mobility can hardly be achieved. The gloomy perception is also shared by the Korea Development Institute, which said that the income of the lower 10 percent has remained nearly stagnant for the last 15 years.
If poverty is fixed in our society, the social integration enthusiastically preached by politicians is impossible to achieve. And when the hope for an exit from poverty and improved economic status vanishes, it inevitably dampens economic vitality, not to mention our growth potential. The incoming Park Geun-hye administration must pay special attention to what the dismal results mean.
We urge the new government to make a drastic shift in its welfare policy paradigm. Despite the fastest increase of welfare expenditures among OECD member countries for the last decade - albeit with the smallest budget for welfare - an increasing number of poor people have trouble escaping from poverty. The discrepancy clearly demonstrates the deepening loopholes in our social safety network.
Previous governments’ welfare policies were largely bent on the supply side - i.e. provision of welfare benefits to the needy on purely philanthropic grounds - without considering correlations between welfare policy and economic growth. They were only concerned about how much money to give and how to secure the budget, as clearly seen by the heated debates on the controversial free school lunch program and the needed tax increase.
The new Park administration is not likely to be an exception on the issue as it too came up with a wide array of welfare programs without deliberately designing a welfare model. The solution hinges on the government’s diligent efforts to link welfare benefits to job creation. It must shift its focus from offering compassionate support to the needy to aggressively helping them to find jobs that lead to economic independence through job training, for instance. That’s the only way of realizing Park’s campaign pledge to build a 70-percent middle class.