Korea lost long-hour, quality, manufacturing jobs last year

Asia's Tech News Daily

Korea lost long-hour, quality, manufacturing jobs last year

A Statistics Korea official speaks during a press briefing at Sejong Government Complex, Wednesday. Yonhap

By Lee Kyung-min

The country added 369,000 jobs last year, its largest year-on-year increase in seven years, according to Statistics Korea data released Wednesday, and the country’s top economic policymaker is eager to define the finding as evidence of a clear, strong recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, the year-on-year increase is irrelevant to the quality and sustainability of the jobs added, a years-long criticism that predates the pandemic and is unlikely to be dispelled any time soon.

Last year’s labor market condition did improve, anchored mostly by a base effect from a year earlier when the pandemic tanked the labor market, and not due to the effectiveness of government job creation measures.

Most of the jobs were short-term and low-paid work held by those aged 60 and older and those in their 20s. Regular, high-pad jobs, mostly considered high-quality work with job security held by people in their 30s and 40s, were lost. Continued job losses in manufacturing, the country’s key industry underpinning the export-reliant economy, have not seen any improvements, indicating the traditional job growth driver is losing steam.

Figures

The number of employed people stood at 27.27 million last year, up 369,000 from the year before, according to the statistics agency.

This is the largest increase in seven years since 2014 when the figure was 598,000.

It is a recovery from 2020 when Korea lost 218,000 jobs, the largest decline in 22 years since 1998 when over 1.27 million jobs were slashed in the aftermath of the Asia financial crisis.

“Korea began to add jobs last March, and the labor market recovery reflects the base effect from 2020 when a significant number of workers lost their jobs at the beginning of the pandemic,” a Statistics Korea official said during a press briefing at Sejong Government Complex. “Digitization and strong exports also helped.”

However, those aged 60 and older added 330,000 jobs, the highest year-on-year increase thus far, followed by those in their 20s who added a combined 105,000 jobs.

By contrast, people in their 30s lost 107,000 jobs, while 35,000 jobs were shed by those in their 40s.

The number of employees working over 36 hours a week decreased 34,000 last year, whereas those who worked fewer than that soared 750,000.

Among them, over 2.15 million people worked fewer than 17 hours a week, up 13.2 percent from a year earlier.

The number of employed in the hospitality industry decreased 47,000, a smaller drop than the 159,000 jobs lost in 2020.

Wholesale and retail industries saw a combined 150,000 jobs disappear. Repairs and other personal service industries lost 55,000 jobs, and arts, sports and leisure industries lost 29,000. Manufacturing shed 8,000 jobs.

The number of self-employed people with employees decreased 65,000, down for the third consecutive year since 2019.

Among the economically inactive population of over 16.92 million, those who “rested” rose to 2.39 million, up 24,000 from the year before, This includes a year-on-year increase of 11.1 percent registered by people in their 30s, indicating that many jobseekers gave up looking for work altogether amid the pandemic-induced hiring freeze.

Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Hong Nam-ki posted on Facebook that the annual employment rate of all age groups has risen, in what he claims is a clear sign of recovery in the job market. But he failed to mention whether the low-paid, temporary jobs added by senior citizens will be sustainable.

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