Quality jobs needed for the young

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Quality jobs needed for the young


Park Byeong-won

A report last month that said that 700,500 jobs had been added compared to January 2013 attracted my attention, as I have strongly advocated “employment-driven economic growth” since 2001.

However, we can’t just welcome that figure. Monthly statistics include many variables, and such a huge number is questionable. I fear that those young Koreans desperately searching for employment may feel even more disappointed, and the authorities relieved when dealing with the issue.

So I would like to provide the reasons why society needs to work harder to create jobs for young people.

First, 278,000 jobs have been added in the retail, wholesale, transportation, restaurant and lodging industries, which are dominated by small businesses. Service industry statistics are not broken down into specific fields, so there is no way of knowing which fields offer more jobs. Yet the increase in employment may be an unfortunate increase for those working in specific industries, spurring excessive competition and surplus supply without upping demand.

The number of taxi passengers, for example, decreased by 25 percent between 1995 and 2012, though the number of cabs increased 24 percent. Since 2000, 360,000 jobs have been added in the transportation industry, but that didn’t help improve the livelihoods of those working in the field.

The retail and wholesale, and the restaurant and hospitality industries have the same problem. Employment in retail and wholesale businesses went down from 3.99 million in 2002 to 3.58 million in 2010, and the number went up again to 3.66 million last year. Similarly, the number of restaurant and hospitality industry employees went down from 2.06 million in 2004 to 1.85 million in 2011, and then increased to 1.97 million last year.

The portion of nonwaged workers, which includes business owners and unpaid family employees, dropped from 38 percent to 27 percent in the 2000s, but it is going up again. It is still very high compared to the developed world’s average of 15 percent, so we cannot simply welcome the increase of jobs in small-business-oriented industries.

In the 2000s, the number of self-employed individuals decreased from eight million to less than seven million, but it is increasing again. We need to study whether it is the outcome of encouraging start-ups to those who couldn’t find jobs, and whether over-competition among small-business owners makes the lives of all involved parties even harder.

Second, employment in the health care and welfare fields has increased drastically. In the five years of the Roh Moo-hyun administration, 190,000 health care and welfare-related jobs were created. In six years since the Lee Myung-bak administration, jobs increased by 810,000, from 740,000 to 1.5 million. Over one year since January 2013, 122,000 jobs in health care have been added.

The number clearly shows the expansion of welfare since the Lee Myung-bak administration, and most of the jobs are part-time positions for women over 50. Demand is increasing, although it is artificially boosted by government funding. Yet these jobs are not filled by young job seekers, and therefore have little effect resolving youth unemployment.

Last, we need to look at the trends in employment in the manufacturing and agricultural industries. The jobs in the manufacturing industry peaked at 5.18 million in 1991, and then decreased by more than one million. Jobs in agriculture have been decreasing since the 1970s. Because they are both increasing again, we need to make sure the trend is sustainable and benefits young job seekers.

It is quite desirable that the Park Geun-hye administration is proposing a 70 percent overall employment rate as a policy goal. However, if the goal is attained by enhancing the employment rate among middle-aged workers - while the youth unemployment is constantly rising - the significance would be undermined. What we need is just the opposite.

Jobs should not be created artificially to meet the mark. While demand for part-time positions is up, authorities should not create part-time jobs to boost the numbers. Instead of being convinced by overall indicators, we need to carefully study employment statistics and work together to create quality jobs for young people.

JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 25, Page B10

*The author is the chairman of the Korea Federation of Banks.

By Park Byeong-won

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