Employment Among 40-Somethings in Steep Decline

Jay Yim, Jan. 16, 2020, 10:36 a.m.


The number of employed people in Korea increased by 516,000 on-year in December last year and by 301,000 for the full year, but among people in their productive 40s, joblessness is on a steep rise.

Buoyed by the positive figures, the government called a press conference to pat itself on the back. Finance Minister Hong Nam-ki said jobs increased "in terms of both quantity and quality." But a closer look at the numbers paints a different story since most of the jobs were temporary sinecures for the elderly that were created with taxpayers' money or low-paid work.

According to Statistics Korea on Wednesday, people over 60 accounted for 93 percent of the job growth in December. In stark contrast, the number of employed people in their 40s declined by 128,000.

Some 70 percent of the new jobs were part-time work of one to 17 hours per week. Manufacturing jobs declined by 15,000, down for the 21st month in a row.

A comparison to 2017, when jobs also increased by around 300,000 for the whole year, shows a clearer picture of the situation. That year the number of stable jobs of more than 36 hours a week increased by 421,000. But last year, such jobs increased only by 105,000 while part-time jobs increased by 301,000, the sharpest increase since the government started tallying such data in 1980 and three times higher than in 2017.

The number of employed people over 65 increased by 98,000 in 2017, but surged by 227,000 last year, also the highest-ever growth.

Even pro-government labor unions are turning against it. The Federation of Korean Trade Unions said he job growth figures are largely an illusion because most are menial jobs created with government spending, while pointing out that the "number of employed people in their 40s continued to decline for 49-consecutive months."

Kim Sang-bong at Hansung University said, "It's inefficient to create jobs primarily for senior citizens with government funding. The money would be better used to create high-quality, private-sector jobs."

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