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Unemployment at 17-year high, job gains slow

Finance Minister Hong warns of tough times but remains hopeful
Jan 10,2019
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Finance Minister Hong Nam-ki said Wednesday that he felt a heavy sense of responsibility as job figures failed to reach expectations.

“Over the next three years, getting a job is likely to be difficult,” the minister warned while attending a public institution job fair.

According to Statistics Korea on Wednesday, the number of employed people in Korea rose by only 97,000 in 2018, the lowest increase since 2009, when 87,000 jobs were lost.

The unemployment rate is now 3.8 percent, a 17-year high.

The finance minister said it will be difficult to find a job over the next three years due to the flood of “echo boomers” into the market. Echo boomers, children of baby boomers, are those born between 1979 and 1992.

“We expect [the number of] echo boomers [seeking jobs] to grow through 2021,” Hong said.

The minister said the government is focusing heavily on creating jobs for the younger generation and will do its utmost to provide opportunities.

“This year, the goal is to create 150,000 jobs,” the minister said.

In 2018, the number of those employed totaled 26.8 million, which is 97,000 more than in 2017, a 0.4 percent increase. That is less than a third of the 316,000 jobs added in 2017. In 2009, the number of employed dropped as a result of the global financial crisis.

A number of other disappointing statistics were also released.

In December, only 34,000 more people were employed than in the same month a year earlier, the smallest rise since August when the increase in employment was only 3,000. The December figure was a dramatic drop from the 165,000 increase reported in November.

The number of unemployed in 2018 totaled 1.07 million, the most since 2000, when the current reporting system was introduced. It is also the third year in which the number of unemployed was above one million.

In manufacturing, which accounted for 16.8 percent of hires in 2018, the number of people employed dropped 56,000 compared to the previous year, a 1.2 percent decline. Industries more sensitive to the minimum wage increase suffered the most. In wholesale and retail, the number of employees fell 72,000 year on year, a 1.9 percent fall. The number of employees in the lodging and restaurant sector fell 45,000, a 2 percent decline.

Some age groups were hit harder than others.

The number of people employed between the ages of 30 and 40 declined 133,000. In the 15-to-19 age range, which usually finds employment in restaurants and at convenience stores, 24,000 fewer people were employed.

In the 20-to-30 age range, 220,000 more people were employed, while in the 60-plus category, 145,000 more people had jobs.

The job losses in the 30-to-40 age range are most troubling for the economy because that is when many people are educating and raising their children.

The finance minister said multiple factors contributed to the disappointing job figures, including the shrinking productive population, the restructuring of major industries, such as shipbuilding and auto making, as well as difficulties in small retail.

But the minister was hopeful.

“When you look at the details, the employment rate when compared to 2017 hasn’t worsened much and the hiring of young people improved in the fourth quarter. The number of people hired as regular employees has been continuously growing,” he said.

The minister added that the government will try to improve the situation by focusing on creating jobs, particularly for the more vulnerable in society, such as women and seniors, as well as for low-income individuals. It will also endeavor to energize the service industry by boosting demand.

“While it won’t be easy, we will do our best to bring change that the public can actually feel,” Hong said.

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