Published : 2013-01-15 19:34
Updated : 2013-01-15 19:34
In yet another indication of the increasing hardship facing younger Koreans, recent data showed the proportion of people in their 20s engaged in economic activity plummeted to its lowest in nearly three decades last month. According to figures from the national statistics office, 60.1 percent of 20-somethings were economically active in December. The ratio, down from 62.3 percent a year earlier, marked the lowest level since February 1986, when the corresponding figure stood at 59.6 percent.
The jobless rate for those aged 15-29 rose to 7.5 percent in December from the previous month’s 6.7 percent. The rate, much higher than the 2.9 percent for all working-age people, was the highest since June when it climbed to 7.7 percent. Furthermore, a third of waged workers in their late 20s and early 30s were hired on an irregular basis, receiving only 61 percent of the payment for regular employees.
What makes younger people gloomier is the forecast that, if they get hired, they will be pushed into an earlier retirement than preceding generations. In its 2011 report, Statistics Korea projected workers in their 20s and 30s will retire at an average age of 56.3 and 59.8, respectively, compared to 62.5 for 40-somethings and 65.3 for 50-somethings.
Many youths even go into debt before landing their first job. In a survey of 774 college students last year, more than two-thirds said they owed 13 million won ($12,300) on average, a large part of which was loans for tuition fees.
It may be only natural that younger Koreans struggling with harsh economic conditions are inclined to delay or even shun marriage and have fewer babies. The key to easing or settling their problems and strengthening the foundation for long-term growth is to create more jobs, especially well-paying ones. During her campaign, President-elect Park Geun-hye put forward a set of pledges to increase youth employment, including recruiting more police officers, firefighters, welfare officials and cyberspace security personnel in the public sector.
What complicates efforts to reduce youth joblessness is a glut of overeducated workers. More than half a million college graduates enter the labor market annually but less than a tenth of them find the jobs they want at large private businesses, public corporations and government agencies. Efforts need to be made to resolve the job mismatch by creating more well-paying jobs and improving working conditions at small and medium-sized firms.
Another effective way may be to encourage and help younger Koreans to gain jobs and go further to start their own businesses abroad. In a sense, those in their 20s and early 30s, who are said to be the most globalized generation in Korean history, are well prepared to compete on the global stage and adapt to work and life overseas.
Rather than feeling left out after working in vain to get jobs at home, young people may find more opportunities by going abroad to open the way for achieving their future dreams. Hopefully more Korean youths will look beyond their immediate difficulties into chances across the world and provide a guiding light for their despairing colleagues by venturing abroad.
It was timely for the president-elect to visit a job fair for young people in Seoul last week to encourage them to pursue their dreams overseas, pledging to expand support for them. Her transition team is working on measures to back up her promises to help youths search for global work. Those steps include building a database on job opportunities abroad and strengthening support for local venture companies to advance into foreign markets.
Transition committee members and government officials are urged to put forward more imaginative and effective methods to enable youths to prove their ability and creativity on the global stage.