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5 Jul, 2013

Ratio of youths among Korean working population falls to all-time low

By Kim Rahn

Seoul, (Korea Times), 01 July 2013 – The nation’s workforce is getting old, with people aged between 15 and 29 taking up 15.1 percent of the total working population, the lowest in 30 years, according to Statistics Korea, Monday. The trend is expected to continue because the portion of the young will reduce in the aging society. And there are fewer quality jobs available for young people.

Park Eun-sun is one of such youth. The 27-year-old graduated from a Seoul college with a degree in food and nutrition, and is having difficulty landing a job as many large-sized food companies have cut back on new hiring.

“Some smaller-sized companies recruit, but the salary of such firms is very small and I think I’m overqualified for those companies considering my school background and my internship experiences,” she said. “I’m thinking about applying for a job at research institutes. But I’m not sure whether I can land one because I heard large-sized institutes prefer those with a master’s degree,” she added.

As more and more young people remain unemployed like Park, the ratio of people aged between 15 and 29 among the total working population is getting smaller.

The statistics agency said some 3.82 million people in the age group had jobs as of May, accounting for 15.1 percent of the total workforce. This was almost half of the 31.5 percent recorded in May 1983 when the agency began collecting related data. The ratio has since kept falling, posting 27.3 percent in 1990, 22.8 percent in 2000 after the Asian financial crisis, 19.4 percent in 2005, and 16.6 percent in 2010 after the global financial crisis.

Such a decrease is partly due to the declining number of youngsters with the society aging and the birthrate dropping – people in the age group accounted for 30.4 percent among the total population in 1980 but the ratio dropped to 20.9 percent in 2010.

But experts say a more notable reason is that the number of quality, regular jobs for the young generation has not increased much in relation to the educational background of youngsters.

“The ratio of high school graduates advancing to colleges has hugely risen in the last 30 years, reaching 80 percent. But the number of jobs that satisfy such highly-qualified college graduates, in terms of wage level and other working conditions, has not increased much as industrial structure has changed,” Kim Ji-kyung, researcher of the National Youth Policy Institute, said.

Kim said many fall into the “economically inactive population,” which refers to people who are neither employed nor unemployed.

“Many college students delay graduation and extend time to prepare for job applications such as taking language courses. Even after graduation, they are still in the ‘preparation’ stage, including attending hagwon for exams to select civil servants. As many remain ‘economically inactive,’ the young generation is taking up less portion in the total working population,” she said.

The researcher said government countermeasures against high youth unemployment rate have focused on providing short-term jobs, such as internship programs, but they cannot fundamentally solve the problem.

“For a fundamental solution, we need to change the social structure so that not only college graduates but also high school graduates can land high-paid, quality jobs if they are well trained. School education should also catch up with the labor market trend,” she said.