Job market craters the most in decade, some sectors buck trend

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Job market craters the most in decade, some sectors buck trend

Total job losses hit a 10-year high in March, while the number of people on leave jumped by a record in percentage terms, as Covid-19 shuttered factories and stores, forced the clearing of office buildings and laid waste to key industries.

According to Statistics Korea on Friday, the number of people employed in March totaled 26.6 million, down 195,000 on year. In May 2009, in the aftermath of the global financial crisis, the number of people losing their jobs totaled 240,000.

Those still considered employed but currently on temporary leave surged 363.4 percent year-on-year to 1.26 million, indicating that the worsening economy is forcing companies to furlough employees.

It is the biggest percentage increase since that figure was first compiled in 1983.

Statistics Korea said government programs are being affected, such as those designed to create jobs for the elderly, in addition to the private sector.

The coronavirus outbreak has hit the services industry particularly hard, especially those businesses that involve working face to face with customers, such as retailers, restaurants and tutoring institutions.

On year, the service sector lost 294,000 jobs. That’s the biggest decline in more than a decade, as 308,000 jobs vanished in September 1998 during the country’s first financial crisis.

Wholesale and retail lost 168,000 jobs, which is a 4.9 percent decline year-on-year in employment. Lodging and restaurant businesses cut 109,000 positions, a 4.9 percent decline in the total. The education services industry, which is primarily hagwon or cram schools, let go of 100,000 workers, a 5.4 percent drop in employment.

In manufacturing, 23,000 jobs disappeared, a 0.5 percent decline in total positions. Employment in manufacturing fell for 21 consecutive months through January.

Some parts of the economy added positions. In the agriculture and fishery category, the increase was 134,000 jobs, or 10.6 percent. The health and social welfare industry added 82,000 jobs, a 3.7 percent increase year-on-year in the total.

In transportation and storage, 71,000 jobs were added, or 5 percent increase, as parcel delivery surged with social distancing and isolation.

Only the 60-and-older category gained jobs, with 336,000 added. A total of 229,000 jobs were lost in the 15 to 29 category. That is the biggest drop since January 2009, when 262,000 positions vanished.

A total of 108,000 people in their 30s lost their jobs last month, while 120,000 people in their 40s lost their jobs. Those in their 40s have been losing jobs for 53 consecutive months. In the 20 to 29 category, 176,000 jobs were lost, while for those in their 50s, 75,000 jobs disappeared.

The number of self-employed working alone was up 124,000 compared to year ago, or a 3.1 percent increase, suggesting that employees were let go, leaving only the owner, or that people are setting up their own businesses for lack of better options. The number of people who were helping the family business without pay increased 8,000 last month, a 0.8 percent increase in the total.

Self-employed businesses with employees declined 195,000, or 12.2 percent year-on-year.

“The 195,000 decline in the number of people employed is the biggest drop since the global financial crisis,” Finance Minister Hong Nam-ki posted on his Facebook on Friday. “Although we have expected the impact of Covid-19 on jobs, I feel the weight of responsibility in getting the actual results.”

He said he was especially worried about people who struggle to get new jobs or those who have no access to unemployment benefits.

“[The government] is looking at this situation very seriously,” Hong said. The finance minister said relevant government departments, including the Ministry of Employment and Labor, are currently working on a job stabilization package.

BY LEE HO-JEONG [lee.hojeong@joongang.co.kr]

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