Clueless youth policy
The author is a professor at the Korea Development Institute (KDI) School of Public Policy and Management and adviser to the JoongAng Ilbo Reset Korea campaign.
In August, the government announced basic outlines of its youth policy. It detailed plans to promote jobs, housing, education, welfare/culture, and participation/rights for the young people from 2021 to 2025. The government has earmarked 22 trillion won ($18.5 billion) in this year’s budget and 23.5 trillion won in next year’s to carry out the plan. We hope the policy will succeed, but it may not be that easy.
The spending on young people may end up like the colossal money that went into addressing low fertility and aging. Since the government set the basic outline on demographic challenges in 2006, it has renewed the five-year outline four times as of this year.
This year alone, 46.7 trillion won was budgeted to raise birthrate and 26 trillion won to address a rapidly-aging society. But the result remains poor. Korea’s fertility rate remained at 0.84 as of last year, among the lowest in the world. The poverty rate of senior citizens is the highest in the OECD.
The youth policy could face the same problems as the policies on fertility and aging. First of all, a basic outline mandates budget and organization for minimum five years. Once the policy target is achieved, the budget and organization become defunct. In the past, the government offices responsible to control births and parasites did well. But upon achievement, they were dismantled. A success would mean dissolution of the organization.
A greater dilemma stems from the difficulty of a long-term policy on “socially rightful” issues. No one would oppose such policies and spending to tackle low fertility and aging and youth problems. But despite the benign cause, the sunk cost and opportunity cost of those three policies would only go up. Housing for youth could clash with housing for seniors and increasing jobs for the youth could come at the expense of jobs for retirees.
The young are unsettled, in despair and enraged by schools to workplaces. The government basic outline cannot change their sense of instability and disgruntlement into hope. The youth issue could be consumed as materials for politics and policies just like poverty and discrimination issues. Adults interfere with the lives of the young. Various structural problems are bypassed without deep reflection.
What should be done? Young people must be able to find work and space to live. A society must be oriented to engage them. Civilians and society must plant a sense of communalism and coexistence in a society wrecked by the government and market. The society must not fail the young as the government and market did before.
The elite labor unions must surrender their vested power and share jobs with the young. The young must not waste their youth delivering food on motorcycles. I do not mean to demean the profession of delivery and courier workers. But we may be sacrificing their future with our convenience to get our deliveries faster. The government must lift regulations so that people with more than three houses place them up for rent at an affordable rate.
The state has the duty to protect individual property rights and income through tax incentives and money for jobs, encourage individuals to contribute to public values and create new jobs for future labor. The state and society must guarantee the rights of the young to labor and housing and allow flexibility in the labor market and work conditions. A youth policy that neglects the rights of the young cannot possibly succeed
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.