Employment figures hit multiyear highs

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Employment figures hit multiyear highs

Employment growth hit a five-and-a-half-year high last month, with the most notable turnaround in manufacturing jobs.

Optimism is tempered however as the momentum could stall with the Wuhan coronavirus still threatening the economy.

In January, 568,000 new jobs were added compared to the same month the previous year. That is the most since 670,000 new jobs were added in August 2014.

January was the second consecutive month in which more than 500,000 jobs were created.

The big news was in manufacturing, where jobs were added for the first time in almost two years. Totals have been dropping since 2018. In January, 8,000 manufacturing jobs were added.

Most of the jobs created since last year have been in health and social welfare and added with the help of government spending.

Last month, 189,000 health and welfare jobs were added, the most of any category. A total of 92,000 transportation and storage jobs were added, followed by lodging and restaurant positions, at 86,000.

By age group, the elderly continued to do well, with people 60 and above doing better than those in their 40s.

Last month 507,000 new jobs were created for people in their 60s, while 65,000 new positions were added for those 29 years old or young. In the category including people in their 30s, 18,000 jobs were added. In the 50s category, 62,000 jobs were added.

In the category including people in their 40s, 84,000 jobs were lost. Employment in this age group has declined for 50 consecutive months.

“This is a meaningful achievement considering that it’s not easy raising the number of people employed especially when the productive population has been shrinking recently,” Finance Minister Hong Nam-ki said Wednesday.

The government estimates that in January the productive population was down 43,000 on year.

“Even the job indices by age group have been showing vivid improvement, except for those in their 40s,” the finance minister added.

He credited the government’s quick support for jobs, especially for the vulnerable. He also noted support for industrial regions that have struggled in previous years, such as those involved in shipbuilding.

While the finance minister re-emphasized the government’s efforts supporting jobs for people in their 40s, he did raise concern over the Wuhan coronavirus.

“There’s a huge possibility that the novel coronavirus will have an impact on the job market, especially in the service industry,” Hong said. “First we will focus our efforts on minimizing the impact of the novel coronavirus on the economy while supporting areas to overcome the damage inflicted.”

The fear of the coronavirus affecting the Korean economy is growing, which could affect job figures in coming months.

Many companies have been placing employees on leave as factories have been shot on a shortage of supplies imported from China.

Service businesses, from hotels to restaurants, have been affected the most, with some of the stores closing due to a sharp drop in both foreign and local customers.

The Korea Institute for International Economic Policy is latest think tank to raise the possibility that the Wuhan coronavirus will a larger impact on the Korean economy than severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2003.

The institute said China’s value-added contribution to Korea’s industrial value chain increased from 1.8 percent in 2003 and 5.3 percent as of 2014.

This indicates that the coronavirus could have a significant influence on the Korean economy.

The institute said if the coronavirus outbreak is resolved in the first quarter China’s economic growth figure will lose 0.5 percentage points. If the situation continues through the second quarter, annual growth could be cut by 1 percentage point.

According to the report, the areas had more than 100 confirmed SARS cases - Guangdong, Beijing, Shanxi, Tianjin and Inner Mongolia - generated 26 percent of China’s GDP.

Areas with confirmed cases exceeding 100 during the current outbreak generate 74 percent of China’s GDP, indicating more significant economic exposure.

BY LEE HO-JEONG [lee.hojeong@joongang.co.kr]

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