250,000 new jobs created in March
But as in February, the newly added jobs were largely created by the government.
March was the second consecutive month in which the number of new jobs added exceeded 250,000 compared to the year earlier period.
While public sector jobs opened up in health and welfare, the private sector continued to struggle. People in their 30s and 40s continued to lose jobs, which is becoming a major threat to the local economy as this is the age group that should be most economically active.
An earlier report showed that consumption in February declined for the first time in nearly a year and a half.
According to Statistics Korea on Wednesday, 26.8 million people were employed in March, including the self-employed. This was a 0.9-percent increase compared to a year ago or 250,000 more.
The biggest increase was in the health and welfare sector, which grew 8.6 percent compared to a year ago, which translates into 172,000 newly employed.
The statistics agency said the health and welfare industry has continued to grow as there is a continuous increase in demand for workers due to Korea’s aging population.
There were also improvements in the lodging and restaurant sector thanks to a growing number of foreign tourists, including Chinese.
But manufacturing jobs continued to decline, 2.4 percent in March compared to a year ago. That’s 108,000 fewer jobs. Although the number of jobs lost in manufacturing eased from the 151,000 in February, employment in manufacturing has been on the decline for 12 consecutive months.
The government said the continuing decline in the semiconductor industry was the primary reason.
The number of jobs in the financial and insurance industry declined 4.5 percent, which translates into 37,000 jobs lost.
“We will be able to get a clear direction for the job market after a month or two,” said Chung Dong-wook, employment data director at Statistics Korea.
Finance Minister Hong Nam-ki on Wednesday expressed optimism over the latest job report.
“We see it as the recovery [in jobs] strengthening,” Hong said Wednesday.
While he admitted that “government fiscal support” contributed to the increase in jobs, he tried to dismiss arguments that any improvements in the last two months were not real because they depended on government spending.
He especially emphasized that the quality of jobs has been improving.
“For the first time in 13 months, the number of newly added regular workers exceeded 400,000 people,” Hong said. “Which, I think, is a meaningful change.”
He said that jobs for younger people are also improving.
The government has been criticized for its reaction to bad job statistics in the past year, attributing them to a shrinking population and other structural changes in the economy.
Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon, when questioned by lawmakers at the National Assembly last month, blamed demographic changes for people in their 30s and 40s losing jobs.
“One cannot see the truth clearly without considering demographic changes including the aging population,” Lee said. “The reason the number of people employed in their 30s and 40s is declining compared to the previous year is because the population in this age group is shrinking,” he added. “The employment rate of people in their 30s and 40s is at 90 percent.”
Analysts have been pointing out that many new jobs were temporary ones in the public sector given to senior citizens and that this is not a job policy, but rather a welfare policy.
They warned that the government policy undermines the creation of stable jobs in the private sector.
In March, the 60-and-older group saw the largest increase among all age groups with 346,000 jobs added to a total of 4.5 million. Last month, 397,000 people 60 or older landed jobs, the biggest number of people in that age group to be hired since July 1983.
People in their 20s and 50s also saw increases in jobs last month.
But people in their 30s and 40s continued to struggle.
Last month, jobs for people in their 30s declined by 82,000, and jobs for people in their 40s fell 168,000 compared to a year ago. In February, 115,000 people in their 30s lost jobs while 128,000 people in their 40s lost jobs.
The increase in jobs for people in their 60s was largely due to jobs in the health and welfare sector while the fall in employment for people in their 30s and 40s was largely due to struggles in the manufacturing industry.
People in their 30s and 40s account for 30 percent of the entire population. That’s higher than the share for people 60 or older, which is 21 percent.
Finance Minister Hong said the government is carefully looking into the shrinking number of jobs for people in their 30s and 40s and the manufacturing sector.
In the hope of addressing the downward risks for the economy, Hong said the government will be creating a supplementary budget that is no more than 7 trillion won ($6.15 billion).
BY LEE HO-JEONG [firstname.lastname@example.org]
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