The young need jobs

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The young need jobs

After President Park Geun-hye made a campaign pledge to achieve an overall employment rate of 70 percent for Korea, vigorous policies followed, including measures allowing women to continue to work after marriage and an expansion of part-time jobs. Thanks to the move, our overall employment rate rose to 66 percent last month from 64.2 percent in 2012. But it’s a different story for our young generation. Their employment rate hit only 41.4 percent last month, no change from 2008. Instead, the jobless rate for the young, which stood at 7.5 percent in 2012, soared to double digits.

The government and the corporate sector have decided to create more than 200,000 jobs by 2017 to address the critical scarcity of jobs for our young generation. Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Choi Kyung-hwan and other economy-related ministers - together with heads of six large economic associations, including the Federation of Korean Industries - came up with a comprehensive package of measures for the young at a joint government-corporate meeting yesterday.

The plan will supposedly create 53,000 jobs in the public sector and 160,000 in the private sector. If that happens, nearly half of our unemployed youth can find jobs. The government plans to offer companies such incentives as the introduction - or extension - of tax deductions for businesses which raise the share of salaried workers when they hire young employees or which upgrade their non-salaried contract workers to salaried, regular employees. Companies that manage to hire young employees because they adopted the peak wage system are eligible for a government subsidy of 10.8 million won ($9,248) per hired employee for two years.

That shows how desperate the government is. But offering incentives to companies can hardly solve the problem. Above all, the number of regular jobs stands at a mere 88,000. Whether companies will keep their promise to hire a certain number of youths is also unclear. For their part, the young generation will perceive these as stopgap measures, not job security. Joblessness among our youth is a structural problem that can be solved by a revitalization of our economy, not by wishful thinking. That’s why the government must come up with substantial ways to raise employment while reinforcing national competitiveness over the long term.

The litmus test is labor reform. Companies and unions should not approach the issue from their usual narrow perspectives. It must be a game in which both sides win through the lifting of productivity. The ruling and opposition parties must not use the issue as a tool for reinforcing their leverage or seeking votes from the public. Our young people working in part-time jobs or internships cannot afford to dream. Without dreams, a country has no future. JoongAng Ilbo, July 28, Page 30

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