A warning to change courseA job crisis is sweeping Korea, while employment numbers are improving elsewhere in the world. According to data from Statistics Korea and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), our unemployment rate for the 55 to 64 age range hit 2.9 percent in the second quarter, increasing by 0.4 percentage points from a year ago and exceeding the 2.7 percent rate in the United States. The trend continued in the third quarter. Job insecurity and losses in Korea, which started with those in their 20s, have affected all demographics.
The last time Korea’s near-retirement age unemployment rate was higher than the United States’ was in 1999. Something must have gone seriously wrong under the Moon Jae-in administration, which was elected under a slogan of increasing jobs for all. The fact that our unemployment rate is higher than in the United States, whose per capita income is nearly twice ours, underscores how poorly our economy is doing.
Korea’s traditional industries have all lost competitiveness this year, wiping out full-time jobs in the manufacturing sector. The spike in the minimum wage and other policies under the income-led growth agenda have also hit small business owners, which make up a quarter of our working population. Over 200,000 jobs have been lost in the wholesale, retail, lodging and restaurant sectors, which mostly pay around the minimum wage. The livelihoods of our families are at risk, as both adult children and their parents cannot find work to make a living.
The government must change course. Hong Nam-ki, the nominee for deputy prime minister for the economy, has to present a plausible rescue outline in this week’s confirmation hearing. He must be assertive against reckless anti-market and anti-business demands from labor groups and concentrate on making lasting jobs instead of trying to boost monthly numbers by forcing public institutions to create short-term jobs. Instead of making more rhetoric, the government must also act on the innovation front.
Washington and Beijing agreed on a truce to their trade war. The government must use this momentum to aid the local economy and give the people some hope for the coming year.
JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 3, Page 30