No way out for young KoreansMiss Jang, 28, is looking for a job. On weekdays she revises her resume and goes to interviews. On weekends she works part-time to support herself, living in a tiny dorm room. She has a boyfriend of three years, but they cannot even plan to get married. He has postponed graduating from college and is looking for a job. Miss Jang says she does not want to have children and raise them in this tragic country. Young Koreans say the politics and administration of this nation are so backward, not developing since the Joseon period.
On May 29, the Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs hosted a forum seeking solutions to improve the low-birth trend among Jang as well as college students, office workers and homemakers. The people directly affected by related policies shared opinions on why Korea came to have the lowest birth rate in the last decade and what is preventing marriage and having children.
First of all, attendees pointed out the increasing youth unemployment and lack of housing. When 33-year-old Mr. Oh got married four years ago, he rented a townhouse unit with a lease deposit of 100 million won ($89,867). The unit did not have parking and the neighborhood was not very safe. Two years later, he and his partner needed to renew the lease, but the landlord had raised the deposit to 200 million won.
“I set aside 90 percent of my income for housing, but I don’t see much hope,” he said. “My friends say they don’t dare to get married because they don’t think they can afford a place to live.”
The cost of private education is also an issue. Kim, 38, spends about 1 million won per month on her fourth-grader’s English, math and writing classes.
“She can’t make friends if she doesn’t go to private after-school academies, and she gets good grades on the subjects that she gets extra help on.”
Parents cannot afford to have multiple children, as demonstrated by a 37-year-old mother who quit her job to raise her two children.
“When my children entered school, the school demanded moms to participate in the Green Mothers Association, volunteer at the library, help clean the school and take part in other activities. Many single women choose not to get married because older, married women give such bad feedback.”
To improve the country’s ultra-low birth rate, fundamental issues such as youth unemployment, housing stability and public education need to be resolved. Stop-gap measures like childcare subsidies or tax benefits are not enough to move the minds of the young generation who are on “strike” from getting married or having children. The panel discussions once again reminded us of this solemn reality.
*The author is a national news writer of the JoongAng Ilbo. JoongAng Ilbo, June 1, Page 29
by PARK HYUN-YONG