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No time for champagne

Mar 14,2019
The good news is that new jobs are finally on the upswing. The bad news is that a close look at the stats shows no real turnaround from the gloomy job situation of the past two years. Though the total number of jobs went up, it was mostly thanks to the government’s push to create jobs in the public sector with taxpayers’ money. Sustainable jobs in the manufacturing sector are not being created at all. In fact, employment among our young generation went from bad to worse as the benefits from the government’s hefty spending primarily went to the elderly.

According to data from Statistics Korea, jobs for the over-60 age group increased by 397,000 in February — the largest growth since 1983. That likely played a big part in the increase of jobs for all age groups to 263,000 compared to the same period of last year. Yet the growth owes much to the government’s early implementation of a plan to create 260,000 jobs for the elderly. Though the government succeeded in improving employment numbers through fiscal tools, that can hardly represent an actual improvement in our depressing job situation as the increase was focused on short-term, low-paying jobs in the public sector.

Last year, the Moon Jae-in administration vowed to offer 10.35 million won ($9,137) to each young job seeker who wanted to work for small- and mid-size companies across the country. This year, the government went so far as to forcefully assign our young job seekers to public institutions as part-timers.

In reality, however, our youth are still suffering the worst-ever unemployment. The jobless rate for people in the 15-to-29 age group has dropped to 9.5 percent — down 0.3 percent compared a year ago. At first glance, that looks like an improvement. But that’s an illusion because their overall unemployment rate stood at a whopping 24.4 percent when you take into account college students, for instance, who are trying to find jobs, yet are not counted as the jobless. The 24.4 percent unemployment rate is the highest since 2015 when the Statistics Office started to collect data on the age group.

Nevertheless, Hong Nam-ki, finance minister and deputy prime minister for the economy, acted as if buoyed by the turnaround. The government can improve employment figures temporarily with the people’s taxes, but it cannot solve the problem in a fundamental way; we urge the government to abandon faulty economic policies — including rapid hikes in the minimum wage — and create sustainable jobs. We owe it to our young.

JoongAng Ilbo, March 14, Page 30