Unemployment line adds insult to injury for the jobless

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Unemployment line adds insult to injury for the jobless

People wait to file their applications for unemployment benefits at a job center in Seoul on Jan. 14. BY KIM KI-CHAN

People wait to file their applications for unemployment benefits at a job center in Seoul on Jan. 14. BY KIM KI-CHAN

 Losing a job is tough. Applying for unemployment benefits is no picnic either.
 
The jobless rate in Korea is at a decade-plus high as Covid hits the economy, and secular trends, in place since 2016, continue to weigh on businesses.
 
On a recent day, a 59-year-old walked into the government job center in Gwanak District, southern Seoul, to apply for benefits.
 
He was surprised by the line.  
 
“There’s a lot of people,” he said. “Social distancing doesn't seem to apply here.”  
 
With all the people packed into the center, it was hard to fill out the application.
 
“I asked the employee when will the number of people will shrink, and they told me they didn't know as it has been like this constantly,” he said.
 
The unemployed man was No. 200 on the list.
 
The situation was the same on Jan. 14 at the same center. People were lined up at the parking lot getting their temperature checked.  
 
While there were some in their 20s and 30s, most were people in their 40s or older.
 
At 11:18 a.m., 196 people were on the waiting list. Some turned away after a brief moment.
 
One of the people waiting asked if it were better if he returned at 2 p.m. The employee at the center said the long lines were a constant, adding that the deadline for accepting applicants was 3 p.m.  
 
Due to the limited workforce, the center only accepts 800 applicants a day. Once the limit is reached, the window is shut.
 
The application process itself was swift. While it took two to three hours to get to the window, the actual interaction took roughly 3 minutes.
 
Unemployment benefits are approved only when the applicant has plans to find a new job. If not, they are denied.
 
Usually the applicants get a brief consultation where they discuss their work experience and skills. Their psychological state is reviewed.
 
If needed, the job center employee recommends job training or psychological counseling.
 
Because of the rush, the center has neither the time nor the manpower to go through the full procedure.
 
The center said while it normally provides consulting and education, they currently only look at whether the applicant is eligible.  
 
“I used to work for a small machinery parts company but lost my job last month,” said a 50-year-old applicant. “This is the second time I’m here. The first time, I just left.”
 
He wished the center would increase the number of workers taking applications.
 
Last year, unemployment payouts hit a record 11.8 trillion won ($10.7 billion). The previous record was 8.9 trillion won in 2019.
 
For workers, it's been one problem after the next, beginning with the jump in the minimum wage, shorter working hours and a generally weak economy. Now, it's Covid.
 
The outlook for 2021 isn't positive. Covid could linger, while the economy is still facing significant underlying problems. Government jobs offered to ease unemployment will be temporary, low-quality positions.
 
BY KIM KI-CHAN   [lee.hojeong@joongang.co.kr]
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