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Asia Minute: South Korea’s Troubling Employment Picture

Emmanuel DYAN / Flickr
Emmanuel DYAN / Flickr

Unemployment in Hawai‘i hit a record low last month—at 2-percent. And as 2017 draws to a close, the state has one of the lowest jobless rates in the country—although wages still remain relatively low and the cost of living is near the top of the national charts. Heading into the new year, the employment situation is a very different story in South Korea. HPR’s Bill Dorman has more in today’s Asia Minute.

2017 has been a year of struggle for young people looking for work in South Korea.

The unemployment rate among those aged 15 to 29 is nearly triple the country’s overall jobless rate. And here’s another twist in the demographics of employment numbers: a record number of older people are working.

In fact, according to government statistics, a higher percentage of South Korea’s working population is 60 and older than those who are 15 to 29.

A couple of months ago, youth employment reached an all-time low in South Korea, and at the same time, employment for senior citizens hit an all-time high.

These are unusual figures—and a cause for some concern.

Government officials say it’s partially because of Korea’s low birthrate and aging population. But it’s also true that many companies have been hesitant to hire workers straight out of university—in part because of economic uncertainties.

The Yonhap News Agency reports November’s overall jobless rate was a relatively low 3.2 percent. While the unemployment rate for those 15 to 29 was 9.2 percent.

Another troubling figure, about a third of South Korea’s unemployed have been out of work for more than a year.

It’s the highest level for that figure since the government began tracking those numbers nearly 20 years ago.

Bill Dorman has been the news director at Hawaiʻi Public Radio since 2011.
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