Asia Minute: South Korea’s Gloomy Jobs Picture

Sep 14, 2018

View of main street from Seoul 7017 Skypark, Korea
Credit Keneckert / Wikipedia

Hawai‘i’s unemployment rate remains just over 2% — that’s about half the national average. It’s also a very different story than in South Korea — where more discouraging figures came out this week.

The last time unemployment in South Korea was this high for this long, Asia was in the midst of an economic disaster. That was more than twenty years ago — the 1997 Asian economic crisis.

That was the last time the number of unemployed in South Korea topped one million for eight months in a row.

In August, the jobless rate hit 4.2 percent. That doesn’t sound like a bad headline number, but analysts say the broader picture is much worse.

Unemployment among young people stands at 10-percent — the worst in nearly 20 years. And it’s not just people fresh out of university or high school, nearly 160,000 people in their 40’s lost their jobs last month — that hasn’t happened since the early 1990’s.

South Korean commentators point to layoffs in the shipbuilding industry and in auto plants.

Another factor: a 16-percent rise in the minimum wage this year — with another hike of more than 10-percent coming next year. Critics say that has hit jobs at small businesses. 

Gangnam District, Seoul
Credit Joop / Wikimedia Commons

President Moon Jae-in is standing by his economic policies, but his political support has begun to slip.

Last week, the president’s approval rating fell below 50 percent for the first time since he took office nearly a year and a half ago.