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The clock is ticking

June 02,2018
이미지뷰
[KIM HOE-RYONG]
CHOI JOON-HO
*The author is an industrial news reporter of the JoongAng Ilbo.

“I have run my shopping mall for 12 years without resting for a single day. My fingers have stiffened. I work hard, but sales are the worst they have been in 12 years. I am considering finding a part-time job. Sometimes, I want to kill myself. I don’t even know how I have lived for the past year.”

A reader posted this comment on an article titled “3.2 million small businesses hanging on a cliff” on May 30. The article stated that more small merchants are going out of business than opening new businesses nationwide, and the trend is especially prominent in Gangnam, southern Seoul.
A survey showed that small businesses suffer the most from the minimum wage increase and high leasing costs. Choi Seong-jae, chairman of the Korean Federation of Micro Enterprise (a legal office representing 3.2 million small and medium-sized businesses), said that the government advocated income-driven growth, but small business owners feel that they are more likely to collapse than grow.

Online comments generally tend to be extreme and overly critical, but people really are struggling.

Fortunately, President Moon Jae-in seems to understand the seriousness of the issue. At a meeting to review household income on May 29, he said that he wanted to discuss how the economic policies were going. But that was it. His policy chief, Jang Ha-sung, concluded that the minimum wage increase did not affect the decrease in employment. A high-level official at the Ministry of SMEs and Startups told me that the minimum wage hasn’t posed difficulties for small businesses so far. Nobody seems to be willing to admit that the high leasing costs could be a result of a policy failure.

The Blue House chief of staff and the minister of SMEs and Startups may not have witnessed the street economy on their commute to work. They couldn’t see the reality as they focus on the reports. Or maybe they are ignoring the consequences of the president’s campaign promise to raise the minimum wage to 10,000 won ($9.3) by 2020.

The Blue House and the ministries are not listening to the voices of small businessmen, key players in the economy of the ordinary people. The Korean Federation of Micro Enterprise is shunned by high-level officials. It is excluded from various government meetings and has no communication channel. Its complaints are considered noisy and unworthy of serious consideration.

Withered plants can revive with water and fertilizer, but once they are dead, they can’t be saved. There is not much time left.

JoongAng Ilbo, June 1, Page 29