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April job figures good, not great as the pace slows

And unemployment rate hits a 19-year high as hiring still too weak
May 16,2019
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Korea added 171,000 new jobs last month from April 2018, fewer than the 250,000-plus job increases reported in the previous two months.

While job numbers are up, unemployment hit a 19-year high.

Statistics Korea announced Wednesday in its monthly employment report that the total number of employed in April stood at 27.038 million, a 0.6-percent increase from the same month a year ago.

Despite the increase, the figures suggest a downward trend, as 263,000 jobs were added in February and 250,000 jobs in March.

While the April figure is still an improvement from January, when only 19,000 jobs were added on year, the numbers indicate weakness, especially as job numbers for those in their 30s and 40s continued to decline. The two age groups have traditionally been the most economically active, as they have families to support.

Jobs for those over 60, mostly retirees, increased by 335,000, the most among all the age groups in April.

Despite the indicators, the government remained largely optimistic.

“Overall, last year’s average job increases were around 97,000,” said Finance Minister Hong Nam-ki on Wednesday. “Over the past three months this year, the trend surpasses the year’s [monthly] target of 150,000.”

“[Jobs for] those in their 30s and 40s decreased, leading to a situation that requires active private investment to create more jobs,” Hong added.

The assessment followed President Moon Jae-in’s upbeat comments a day earlier.

“When looking at it overall, our economy is moving forward to success,” Moon said at a meeting with small- and medium-sized businesses on Tuesday. “There could be a temperature difference between statistics and in the field.”

Meanwhile, the statistics agency’s report showed that the unemployment rate for the month reached the highest levels in 19 years, at 4.4 percent, rising 0.3 percentage points from the same month the previous year.

The government blamed the increase on young people preparing for civil servant exams.

According to the government, the number of people registered for civil servant exams increased by 179,000 in April.

The unemployment rate for the youth sub-category was at 11.5 percent, also the highest ever in 19 years.

The service sector added 253,000 jobs in April, while the manufacturing sector continued to lose jobs.

The report added that fewer manufacturing jobs were lost compared to previous months. In April, the sector lost 52,000 jobs compared to February, when it lost 151,000 jobs.

The government said it will work to pass its supplementary budget proposal submitted in late April to the National Assembly.

The supplementary budget includes “economic measures to respond to downward risks to the economy that have been growing by the day,” said Hong. “I sincerely request that the supplementary budget is reviewed and confirmed.”

From the proposed 6.7 trillion won ($5.63 billion) budget, 4.5 trillion won will go toward stimulus spending, such as export support and social safety net funding.


BY CHAE YUN-HWAN [chae.yunhwan@joongang.co.kr]