Seoul mayor defends youth subsidy

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Seoul mayor defends youth subsidy

As the debates rage on regarding the fate of Korea’s youth and how best to help them, Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon has entered the fray. Park requested a meeting with President Park Geun-hye to discuss the controversial youth support program. A Blue House spokesman announced Tuesday that the Seoul city government should settle the issue with the Ministry of Health and Welfare.

The Seoul city government has been butting heads with the Welfare Ministry over its controversial youth support program.

On Wednesday, Seoul distributed the first cash allowance to the 2,831 recipients who signed agreements with the government. Each recipient received half a million won ($452).

The payments are part of a five-year program, called the Seoul Youth Guarantee, to support unemployed and underemployed young adults. The city set aside some 9 billion won to provide 3,000 recipients with 500,000 won per month for up to six months.

“I stand here not for the youth guarantee program but for the future of South Korea,” said Mayor Park at the city hall on Monday. “The younger generation today does not have a future. They call themselves the ‘opo’ generation and they call this country ‘hell Joseon.’”

The term opo generation is used among young Koreans today to describe the need to give up five essentials of traditional Korean adulthood (courtship, marriage, childbirth, homeownership and a social life), hence the Korean portmanteau opo, which stands for “give up five things.”

“The youth guarantee program will be a pilot program to address youth unemployment and socioeconomic dissatisfaction among the younger generation,” Park said. “So of course it is going to be different from previous means to help young adults.”

The Welfare Ministry, concerned about the moral issue of handing out cash to young adults, shut the program down on Thursday and requested the city government collect the money that had been handed out to the thousands of recipients.

“Since the ministry shut the program down, Seoul city government is left with one option: filing a lawsuit against the ministry order to the Supreme Court,” Park said. “But it is never ideal for governments to stand in court against each other, especially over an issue concerning young adults.”

Park added, “And that is why I am asking for dialogue with President Park.”

As far as the statement from the Blue House spokesman goes, the president will likely avoid getting involved in the legal battle between the ministry and the city government.

According to the Local Autonomy Act, the Seoul city government has until next Friday to file a lawsuit against the ministry’s directive that shut the program down.

A poster covering one entire side of the Seoul Metropolitan Library, which has been up since last week, reads, “The life of young adults cannot be shut down - period.”

BY ESTHER CHUNG [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]

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