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Taking it in the pocketbook

May 20,2019
The early arrival of summer heat fast-forwarded the craving for a favorite summer treat for Koreans — a bowl of naengmyeon, or buckwheat noodles in cold broth. After an earlier-than-expected surge in demand, popular noodle houses all raised prices. A bowl of cold noodles at Seoul’s most popular places — like Woo Lae Oak, Bongpiyang and Samwon Garden — cost as much as 14,000 won ($11.70).

Traditional houses selling Pyongyang naengmyeon — originally a North Korean dish — sell their noodles for 12,000 won. A noodle dish at Bongpiyang costs a whopping 17,000 won and a spicy noodle dish at Eulmildae 16,000 won. A family dinner of cold noodles has now become a luxury, not to mention if adults drink soju with the meal, as factory wholesale prices for a bottle of soju have risen by 6.45 percent.

The jump in such traditionally popular restaurant meals underscores the rapid rise in everyday consumer prices. According to April consumer price data from Statistics Korea, fried chicken prices jumped by 7.2 percent on year, the biggest gain in nearly 10 years. Eating at home has become expensive too. Pork prices soared by 9.4 percent, onions by 20 percent and potatoes by 12.1 percent from the previous month. Grocery shopping feels more and more burdensome due to stagnant incomes. The base taxi fare in Seoul and Gyeonggi rose to 3,800 won from 3,000 won. Bus fares are next.

Despite the spikes in everyday prices, the consumer price index growth rate has stayed in zero territory for the fourth consecutive month, the longest period since inflation has been tracked. The government must do what it can. It must moderate other policies that can affect people’s lives, such as the minimum wage hike or shortening of the workweek. Otherwise, it could face a serious backlash from an enraged public due to livelihoods that are getting harder.