No jobs, no regional development

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No jobs, no regional development

 Good jobs are usually centered around the capital region. The extent nevertheless is overly excessive in Korea. According to tax data on highest earning salaried workers revealed by a lawmaker, 75 out of 100 salaried workers in the highest 1 percent income bracket had jobs in the capital region.

The data was based on a year-end tax report on labored income in 2020. But the finding should not be surprising as 74 percent of the biggest 1,000 companies in Korea are based in Seoul, Gyeonggi province and Incheon city, where 51 percent of the population live.

The phenomenon deepens the vicious cycle of concentration around the capital. Young people in other areas leave their homes in search of better jobs in the capital area. The number of cities, counties, and districts with a population of less than 30,000 increased to 18 in 2021 from 12 in 2011 and six in 2000. At this rate, half of the nation’s 228 cities, counties and districts could cease to exist in 30 years.

Capital concentration can worsen the country’s lowest-ever birth rate. Cho Young-tae, a professor of public heath sciences at Seoul National University, said that competition for young people has intensified due to over-concentration in the capital region, making it difficult for them to find places to live or work and forcing them to give up on starting a relationship or family.

President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol has also found the phenomenon to be grave. During a ceremony launching the presidential transition committee, he stressed national unity and fair opportunity regardless of the residential location. Former Blue House policy chief Kim Byung-joon who designed the Sejong Administration City project under Roh has been recruited to head a subcommittee on balanced development.

Yoon proposes to install the second presidential office in Sejong. But to fundamentally help balanced regional development, good jobs must be provided across the country. Big companies should be willing to move their headquarters or open a second base in non-capital areas. Companies should be allowed to develop an area alone or in a joint venture with their host government. Retirees must also be encouraged to move out of the capital region.

Ma Kang-rae, a professor at Chung-Ang University who authored “Death of Provincial Cities” proposed rural areas could be revived if baby boomers return to their hometowns. If the central and local governments offer various incentives for new settlement for retirees, they could move out of the capital to start new lives.
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