Deepening job polarizationThe super-long Chuseok holiday is over. Koreans traveled more than ever — an13.9 percent increase compared to last year. Airports across the country were crammed with local tourists looking to spend their holidays at home and abroad. More than 2 million people rushed to Incheon International Airport to travel to hot spots overseas and bask in the 11-day holiday.
The travel stampede will surely have a positive effect on our economy. But given the noticeable increase of Koreans who went abroad to spend their unusually long vacation, the long holidays’ effect on boosting domestic demand will most likely be halved. Instead, it will help worsen the balance of payments on our tourism account. A long shutdown of factories also will contribute to a reduction of our exports.
What attracts our attention is the widening gap between large companies and public corporations and their small counterparts, including SMEs and mom-and-pop stores in the neighborhood. While the former was able to enjoy the long holiday, the latter could not. Small enterprises had to continue their business as usual because they had to pay personnel expenses and rents even on holidays.
Quality jobs can only be created by companies. But their inability to create jobs increases the number of self-employed even when a long, bumpy road awaits them. South Korea is notorious for the large number of self-employed individuals, ranking fourth out of 38 OECD member nations.
The Moon Jae-in administration underscores the value of equal opportunity. However, as long as the large companies and the public sector enjoy the benefits of leisure and rest, that’s not fair or just. World-famous investor Jim Rogers said that South Korea has lost attraction as an investment destination, after meeting many young people who study hard only to pass the prospective civil servants examination to prepare for their stable lives later on.
If the government wants to address unemployment, jobs must be created. Otherwise, someone has to share them. The only solution is a grand compromise among the employers, workers and government. As the Moon administration upholds liberal values, it must first convince labor unions of the corporate sector of the need to share their jobs. The government must focus on creating quality jobs in the private sector if it does not want to exacerbate the widening polarization of our society that we saw during the Chuseok holidays.
JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 10, Page 30