Relieving the hardships of young adults does not require sympathetic rhetoric, but a change in policy
In his speech to mark the country’s Youth Day last week, Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum expressed deep sympathy for the increasingly difficult situation facing many young South Korean adults. He said he could not lift his head when he saw and heard about “the life of young people filled with suffering, despair and pain”.
His description of the hardships facing the nation’s young adults is supported by gloomy government data.
As of May, the number of people in their twenties who have been unemployed for more than three years stood at 278,000. Of these, nearly 100,000 had given up looking for work altogether.
As opportunities for decent jobs continue to dwindle, more and more young adults have turned to starting their own businesses. But inexperienced and unprepared, many of them were forced to close their businesses at an early stage.
According to recent data from the National Tax Service, the number of people under the age of 30 starting their own businesses jumped 30.2% year-on-year last year, far more than the corresponding figures for other brackets. age. The increase came as the number of young adults closing their businesses has increased by almost 40 percent in the past four years.
Soaring house prices have dashed young people’s hopes of buying their own homes. Their future has been further clouded by the increase in the national debt, the burden of repaying it having to be borne by them.
Last year, President Moon Jae-in’s administration designated the third Saturday in September of each year as Youth Day to draw more attention to the importance of improving the lives of young people and securing their rights. .
Since Moon took office in 2017, however, his government has pursued a set of policies that have only made life more difficult for young adults.
Its income-driven growth has pushed many young people out of work as employers struggle to cope with rising staff costs, including sharp hikes in the minimum wage.
A series of pro-work measures and other regulations have discouraged companies from increasing investment and creating the kind of jobs that young job seekers prefer.
In a recent survey conducted by the Korea Economic Research Institute of 542 people aged 18 to 29, around 63% of those surveyed expected working conditions to continue to deteriorate and almost 70% saw little opportunity to get a job. job they wanted to get.
A policy of restricting the supply of new housing in the private sector was accompanied by low interest rates which pushed up housing prices beyond the means of most first-time buyers.
Over the past four years, the Moon government has increased its budget spending at a faster rate than any of its predecessors to fund inflated social benefits and offset the negative effects of its misplaced policies. The country’s national debt, which stood at 660 trillion won ($ 557 billion) in 2017, is expected to be around 1.1 trillion won next year, when Moon ends his five-year term. The burden of repaying the growing debt will rest on the shoulders of the younger generations in the context of the rapid aging of the country’s population.
Prime Minister Kim’s apologetic remarks might be meaningless if not followed by a change in government policy aimed at alleviating the suffering of young adults. Above all, sweeping regulatory and labor reforms are needed to help create more employment opportunities for them by revitalizing business activity and making the labor market more flexible.
Citing an increase in the number of employees in August, Finance Minister Hong Nam-ki, who is also deputy prime minister of economic affairs, last week insisted on the recovery of the country’s labor market. But his remarks overshadowed reality, as most of the new jobs were part-time and full-time manufacturing jobs fell 76,000 from a year earlier in August.
In his address to a UN session on the Sustainable Development Goals this week, Moon pledged to cooperate with the international community to achieve these goals, stressing that “the future belongs to our future generations.” His speech could have ringed hollow for many young adults unemployed in their country.