Failing grades

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Failing grades

The Moon Jae-in administration’s report card on jobs for 2018 has just been released. Our expectations were grim from the beginning, but the actual numbers are even grimmer. According to Statistics Korea, jobs increased by only 97,000 over the last year, a third of the figure for the previous year, and the lowest number since 2009, which was in the middle of the global financial meltdown. The number of unemployed hit 1.07 million — the largest number since 2000 — and the jobless rate reached 3.8 percent, the highest level in 17 years. We are deeply disappointed at such a performance from a government that vowed to be a “job government.”

The job increases of 97,000 were not solid because jobs in the manufacturing sector — a barometer of sustainable, quality jobs — shrank by 50,000, not to mention in the restaurant, lodging, retail and wholesale areas, which were directly affected by the government’s relentless push for a higher minimum wage. Instead, good jobs in the private sector were basically replaced by short-term and part-time jobs in the public sector, only paid with taxpayer money.

We wonder where the economy is headed if the administration really spent a whopping 54 trillion won ($48.15 billion) in a supplementary budget to create jobs — and managed to achieve such poor results. Ironically, the weaker economic classes suffered the most as companies in the manufacturing and services sector increasingly laid off unskilled workers. That contradicts the administration’s promise of “inclusive growth.” It’s more like targeted pain.

A number of factors, such as a slower domestic economy, demographic shifts and worsening external conditions, played their parts. But the buck stops with the Blue House, which has pushed a daredevil policy experiment called “income-led growth.” The hikes in the minimum wage and the implementation of a 52-hour workweek only hurt struggling small- and mid-sized companies and mom-and-pop shops. On top of that, the government rolled up its sleeves to put pressure on businesses in the name of rooting out “past evils” instead of finding ways to ease regulations on them.

And now it’s 2019. Experts are skeptical of the government’s plan to create 150,000 new jobs. Despite the government’s vow to reinforce its fiscal stimuli, it can hardly thaw a frozen investment mentality in the private sector. If the government is still bent on blaming opponents for our economy’s performance, it cannot find solutions. If it still tries to sell a disastrous report card as an accomplishment, that’s fake news.

JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 10, Page 30
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