Survey details financial pain of consumersA record low 62.5 percent of 1,500 Korean consumers surveyed regard themselves as middle class. At the same time, nearly 35 percent consider themselves as members of the lower class, a record high.
The percentage of those who place themselves in the middle class is nearly 10 percentage points lower that during the 1997 Asian financial crisis,
The Korea Consumer Agency (KCA) released the 2013 Korea Consumer Index yesterday, which is intended as a snapshot of local consumption patterns.
It also accesses consumers’ perceptions relating to their economic class.
Over the past 19 years, the KCA has assessed consumers’ class identification six times.
This year, according to the survey, which conducted one-on-one interviews with men and women across the country, 62.5 percent said they believe they belong to the middle class, down 8.5 percent from the most recent survey in 2007.
On the other hand, the percentage of those who identified themselves as lower class - 34.8 percent - was the highest since the survey began.
“Based on the survey results, the government should come up with specific measures to improve the consumption of those who identify themselves as middle class,” said a spokesman for the KCA.
The index also showed one in four Korean consumers (26 percent) felt financially burdened by the cost of food, displacing education as the top expense.
The KCA survey excluded major expenses such as housing, utilities and transportation costs.
Educational expenses, which topped the financial burden rankings in 1999 and 2002, was second with 21.5 percent.
The survey also found that 8.2 percent of those interviewed felt burdened by the expense of health care and 6.9 percent cited spending on clothes.
In the clothing and textile areas, 31.1 percent said that clothes are too expensive in comparison to their quality.
In the information and communications sector, nearly one in four of those surveyed agreed that mobile handsets were expensive, and in particular, 25 percent of those in their 20s and 30s said they have felt financial pressure because of the price of mobile phones.
In addition, 21.2 percent acknowledged that steep basic charges and fees for telecommunications services were a problem.
Consumers in the survey also specified a lack of information on health care and the financial markets as a serious hindrance.
In the case of health care, 71.3 percent said they have insufficient rights when it comes to being informed about the cost of services, medical procedures and pharmaceutical expenditures. Sixty-seven percent said there is a lack of information that makes it all but impossible to compare hospitals and doctors.
In the case of financial services, 56.7 percent said they are concerned about the possibility of suffering damages from financial fraud, with 53.2 percent saying there is not enough information to easily and effectively compare and select financial products.
The survey shows that a considerable number of consumers find it difficult to access the information they need to make informed and cost-effective decisions.
In the food consumption sector, more than 85 percent of the people surveyed reported feeling uneasy about the safety of imported agricultural and fish products.
Those who said they felt the same way about domestic agricultural and fish products accounted for more than 50 percent of the consumers surveyed.
More than 70 percent of them said they were also concerned about the safety of the food sold at general restaurants around schools and rest areas.
“Based on the survey results, it is necessary to relieve the anxiety over the safety of food and close the information gap in the market. We plan to consistently publish the KCA Consumer Index to check national consumer trends and utilize it as the basic data source for the promotion of scientific and rational consumer policies,” said the KCA spokesperson.
According to the KCA index, the level of consumer satisfaction of Korean consumers was 2.86 points on average out of four, or 71.5 points out of 100.
By sector, the satisfaction for consumption on food, clothing and housing were slightly above the overall consumer satisfaction at 2.87 to 2.92 points, while those for education (2.67 points) and health care services (2.79 points) were lower than the average overall score.
By KIM JUNG-YOON [firstname.lastname@example.org]
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