The job situation is an outrage

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The job situation is an outrage

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Kim Dong-ho
The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

Liberty Korea Party Chairman Hwang Kyo-ahn has been quite harsh on the Moon Jae-in administration. He described Moon’s employment policy as “job fraud.”

“As only temporary jobs increase with tax money, the country has become a paradise of part-time jobs,” he said.

I learned that it was not a mere political offensive after reading a story written by a young Seoul National University (SNU) graduate in his department newsletter about his job search. I was doubtful at first. He got a job after four failed attempts. The reality was that even a graduate from Seoul National University with a popular major had to try five times to get a job.

A professor at the department told me a more surprising story. “It is a relatively good case. There are more serious cases,” he said. I thought I knew about our gloomy youth employment situation, but I only knew the numbers. I felt frustrated that I was ignorant on the issues I thought I knew well.

Liberal arts majors are having a harder time finding a job. The professor told me that liberal arts majors at prestigious school are preparing for the civil service or public corporation exams. But their chances are slim. Many of them also apply to major corporations and financial firms, but they are just as hard.

What’s more surprising was that the SNU graduate discussed his failures calmly. He accepted the harsh reality that even graduating from the top school did not help him find a job. He confessed that it would have helped his chances to honestly express himself. So much has changed. Just as in the popular television drama series “SKY Castle,” people want to get into top schools so they can be treated better in society.

But the world has changed. The fundamental reason is the change in demand as a result of rapid technological transition. As the competitiveness of traditional manufacturing sector is weakening, Korea’s economic growth engines are also weakening. As the country enters the tunnel of low growth, companies don’t hire as many workers as in the past and even move workplaces to developing countries like China, Vietnam and Mexico.

The outcomes are exporting jobs and the hollowness of the manufacturing sector. Industrial complexes in Gunsan, Geoje, Changwon and Ulsan have all turned into rust belts. To add jobs, our economy needs to expand beyond the manufacturing sector to the advanced service industry.

Yet conglomerates face a plethora of restrictions, and small- and medium-sized companies cannot take on any new challenges due to a lack of funds and technology.

It is ironic of history that this bleak reality originates from the outdated regulations from the Park Chung Hee era. The liberal Moon Jae-in administration is unwilling to remove regulations, saying this would only benefit conglomerates. The result is Korea’s employment crisis. The perception of youth unemployment has hit more than 25 percent. College students have a hard time finding even part-time or temporary jobs, much less full-time employment. They even postpone graduation to brush up their résumés. Young people should be freed from the trap of unemployment.

The answer is simple. Stopping restrictions on the corporate sector would change the mood at once. Companies are the ones that create jobs. As the established generation — particularly those in power — has the fruits of industrialization, they don’t understand the pain of young people. They only have the good memories of choosing a job as they wished. As a result, they simply advocate the populist policy of offering 500,000 won ($440) as a job-search subsidy to 80,000 people rather than solutions like deregulation.

Young people are slowly growing angry. The young people’s civic group To Liberty has been organizing massive rallies criticizing government policies. They claim that even though President Moon Jae-in proclaimed himself to be a guardian of jobs, his income-led growth policy only hurt the corporate economy and made young people unemployed rather than creating quality jobs for a better future. Those who are struggling to find temporary positions are quickly turning into rebels against the Moon administration. To me, the opposition leader’s description of “job fraud” sounds about right.

JoongAng Sunday, April 20-21, Page 30
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