Many young Koreans choose ‘freeter’ lifestyle

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Many young Koreans choose ‘freeter’ lifestyle

A growing number of young people are surviving on part-time jobs rather than looking for full-time employment, eschewing all the stress that comes with a job at a Korean company.

The recent rise in the minimum wage is only accelerating the trend, a very unintended consequence.

Vocational high schools, which train young people for blue collar jobs in small companies, are seeing their graduates choose less committed work at restaurants or convenience stores.

Mr. Park, a 19-year-old graduate of a vocational high school in North Jeolla, recently quit his job at an auto parts company to wait tables at a restaurant.

“I would get the minimum wage if I were working at a small or mid-sized company anyway, and then I’d have to deal with workplace pressure, so I don’t see the point,” said Park.

“Since the minimum wage applies to every job regardless of occupation or work intensity, many of my friends are reluctant to work in companies with stressful or physically exhausting work environments, “ he said. “Unless it’s a job I would really enjoy doing, I’d rather work a part time job.”

“If the salary that students receive from full-time jobs is significantly higher than the amount they would earn from part-time jobs, they may choose to get a full-time job,” said a principal of an industrial high school in Seoul. “I’m worried the increase in minimum wage will make students flock to part-time jobs.”

However, these concerns aren’t shared by everyone. “Despite the minimum wage increase, most of the students want to get a decent full-time job,” said a teacher at a vocational high school in Gyeonggi.

The Minimum Wage Commission decided on Monday that the minimum wage for next year will be 8,350 won ($7.37), up 820 won, or 10.9 percent from this year. Unemployment among young people between the ages of 15 and 29 was 10.5 percent in May, far higher than the general unemployment rate of 4 percent.

In the unemployment statistics, part-time workers are considered to be employed if they work at least one hour a day.

The part-time working trend is already deeply established in Japan, where such workers are called “freeters,” a portmanteau of the English word “free” and the German word “arbeiter,” which Japanese use to describe a part-time job or a moonlighting job. There are reportedly millions of freeters in Japan.

Mr. Kim, a 26-year-old from Jeonju, North Jeolla, graduated from a two-year college a year ago but works part-time. Before graduating from college, he landed a job on the production line of an herbal medicine packaging factory, but he didn’t last long.

“I hated being worked like a machine,” said Kim. “And with a monthly salary of 1.5 million won, I thought I would be better off with a part-time job.”

Kim has worked at a fast food restaurant, photo studio and internet cafe. Since February, he has been working at a steakhouse in Jeonju Hanok Village, where he makes two million won a month and works five days a week.

Within a year of graduating, he earned about 40 million won from part-time jobs. He even has time to spare, occasionally taking days off to enjoy hobbies such as photography. Kim’s parents were worried at first, nagging him with questions like “How will you get married?” or “How will you buy a house?” Kim says they now accept his lifestyle.

“I don’t feel the need for a formal job yet,” he said. “I may consider doing freelance work later on, but I don’t want to be a part of a group or large organization again.”

“There are pros and cons in young people preferring part-time jobs to ‘lifetime jobs,’” said Yeom Myung-bae, an economics professor at Chungnam National University. “From an educational point of view, it may be seen as unwise to choose jobs unrelated to one’s major, but there are benefits in increasing your job market flexibility.”


BY KIM JUN-HEE, CHOI MO-RAN [ebusiness@joongang.co.kr]

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