A lack of desperation“When it is hard to find a place to rent, what’s the point of getting more loans?” “It’s not that we cannot get married because the government doesn’t arrange blind dates.” “We can handle dating on our own. Just make a country a place where we want to raise children.”
When the government made the draft for the third basic plan for the low birth rate and aging society (2016-2020) public on Oct. 18, criticism surged online. While the plan includes raising the lease deposit loan limit for newly married couples and reducing medical expenses for pregnancy and childbirth, the young generation protested that these measures wouldn’t work. Local government bodies would encourage local public corporations and businesses to arrange group blind dates, and the idea was met by cold responses. The young generation self-deprecatingly say that they have to give up countless things, including dating, marriage, having children, personal relationships and even hope. They lamented that the government does not understand reality at all.
While I reviewed the 200-page-long report several times, I couldn’t find any measures that would encourage young people to have children. It lacks fundamental solutions to the core problem. Most young people wouldn’t risk having children because of temporary benefits. Experts also criticized the government’s failure to move on from the conventional gesture of offering an array of irrelevant measures.
The Ministry of Health and Welfare has its own logic. A ministry official said, “If anyone figures out how to raise the birth rate, he would be awarded the Nobel Prize.” After spending over 80 trillion won, the birth rate is not improving much. It is frustrating that nothing seems to be changing after 10 years.
The problem is that the government measures don’t show desperation. What the young people who give up their dreams and struggle to survive really want is not an additional loan of 20 million won. They want to have reasonable expectations that they can become homeowners if they work hard. They want the educational system where children are not tormented by admissions tests. They want a labor environment where they don’t have to worry about unstable employment. These are the real ways to boost the birth rate. They may not take effect right away, but the government needs to give hope that things will change in a decade or two. Only then will people have children.
The third plan, which is to be implemented next year, is awaiting a Cabinet vote. In the plan, “national development strategy” and “improvement of social constitution” appear frequently. But it lacks real strategies. Rather than improving the constitution, it is more of a prescription for painkillers. Lately, the rock group Kim Jung-sik Band is increasingly popular among young people. “You want to have children? What are you talking about? You don’t know the trend?” The song addresses the struggle and agony of young Koreans today. I recommend those seeking ways to improve the birth rate listen to this song.
JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 20, Page 33
*The author is a national news reporter of the JoongAng Ilbo.