Elderly workforce grows to a record, and trend is likely to continue

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Elderly workforce grows to a record, and trend is likely to continue

Elderly employees at car wash Hyo in the basement of Yongin City Hall in Gyeonggi washing cars. [CHAE HYE-SEON]

Elderly employees at car wash Hyo in the basement of Yongin City Hall in Gyeonggi washing cars. [CHAE HYE-SEON]

The number of senior citizens with jobs is now at a record. And this trend is unlikely to change as the population ages.  
 
“Hyo,” a car wash located in the basement of Yongin City Hall in Gyeonggi, has 16 employees 70 years old or older.  
 
The car wash was created in 2019 by the Yongin local government to provide jobs for its senior residents.  
 
The elderly employees work an average three hours a day and 16 days a month.  
 
Despite the age of the workers, customers lined up after word spread that they are good at their jobs.  .  
 
“Even though there is an employee in his 80s, there’s no physical problems and everyone is eager to work,” said a Yongin government official. “While the pay is not much, they are satisfied as the paycheck helps them in their lives after retirement.”
 
According to a Statistics Korea report, as of the second quarter, there are 1.65 million people 70 years old or older who have jobs.  
 
When compared to the same period a year earlier, that’s a 9 percent increase.  
 
It is the largest number since the statistics agency started compiling data on those 70 years old or older with jobs in 2018.  
 
The number of elderly people hired has been growing even at a time when the pandemic has been affecting the job market.  
 
For those in their 30s and 40s, job losses have continued.  
 
As of the second quarter, 6.01 percent of employed are aged 70 years old or older. This is the first time the figure has exceeded 6 percent.  
 
The increasing number of older people due to longer life expectancy with the help of medical advancements is considered to be one of the key factors in more people seeking jobs.
 
There are still many who have to work even long after retirement, feeding their families with what little income they have.  
 
The government has been funding short-term jobs for senior citizens, such as watching over playgrounds, traffic safety work, and picking up cigarette butts and plastic bags.  
 
These jobs have been criticized as they are not only simply tasks but also low-paying jobs.  
 
“Most of the jobs provided by the government are concentrated in short-term low paying jobs,” said Kang Sung-jin, a Korea University economics professor.
 
The professor said there are also positive aspects to the government program.  
 
“In the past, the social safety net wasn’t sufficient enough, and since most of the older people when they were young spent money on their children’s education and living, they weren’t able to save much for themselves,” Kang said. The government job program “allows the senior citizens to make use of their experience and know-how and improve their financial situations after retirement.
 
Experts say there is a need to create a sustainable environment where people even after age 70 can continue working especially without the government having to directly create jobs, which could be costly.
 
“With baby boomers retiring by 2025, there will be a new generation of people in their 70s dubbed ‘yold’ or young old,” said Kim Young-sun, Kyung Hee University’s Graduate School of East-West Medical Science. “Unlike those in their 70s in the past, the yold will be much healthier, more knowledgeable and skilled in IT.”  
 
The professor said although the government should be taking more responsibility for the old, it should create policies to help the private sector take the lead in creating jobs for senior citizens by utilizing yold expertise in creating added value.
 
“[This direction] will be more helpful to the economy and sustainability,” Kim said.
 

BY SOHN HAE-YONG [lee.hojeong@joongang.co.kr]
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