Unemployment is in worse shape than official data indicate

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Unemployment is in worse shape than official data indicate

The official unemployment rate in Korea, hovering in the lower 3 percent range for months, should not be a source of complacency, according to other government job data.

A broader measure of joblessness paints a much worse picture of the local job market, the data show.

The latest job data released last month by Statistics Korea said that the unemployment rate in November stood at 3.3 percent, with 819,000 people looking for work.

That ranks Korea as the country with the lowest jobless rate among the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

But if the unemployed is more broadly defined as all the people who are unwillingly out of work, the number would surge to 3.3 million.

That would push up the unemployment rate almost four times to 12.2 percent.

The finding comes as the government is beefing up efforts to boost the job market, which it sees as a way to finalize economic recovery. Some market experts say more effort should be made given the serious real picture of joblessness.

The discrepancy stems from the methodology of the survey. The monthly survey of unemployment by the state statistics agency singles out people who were without jobs in a given week among a randomly chosen group of people.

But they are not all counted as unemployed. Among those without jobs in that given week, only those who applied for a job within the previous month and are able to work immediately are classified as unemployed.

That keeps those who are willingly unemployed, such as students and housewives, from being counted.

But it also leads the official unemployment data to miss those who have given up seeking jobs out of frustration and people in months-long job training programs.

The Statistics Korea data showed that there were 2.48 million such people in November, which, along with the 819,000 officially unemployed, would make the number of the real unemployed much higher.

If those 2.48 million people are included in the economically active population, the unemployment rate, or the portion of the jobless to the economically active population, was over 12 percent in November.

The official economically active population in November was 24.63 million.

The “real” unemployed figure often goes unnoticed by the public, however, as the statistics agency does not show it in combined data.

A similar broader measure of the unemployed is announced every month in the United States under the so-called U-6 number.

“We announce enough job data so that people can see that, but we don’t include it in the official unemployed figure because it can give an incorrect picture of labor conditions,” said an official of the statistics agency.

Some experts say, however, that could instead create the illusion that the employment situation is not all that bad.

“I think some factors work together to make the unemployment data in Korea look better than it really is,” said Choi Kyung-soo, a researcher at the Korea Development Institute. “Unemployment has worsened during the financial crisis, and that means we need correct and active policies from the government.”

By Moon Gwang-lip [joe@joongang.co.kr]

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