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Korean poverty rate rises to 7% in 2010: report

About 7 percent of the population was living under or near the absolute poverty line in 2010, the Ministry of Health and Welfare said Monday. The figure is a slight increase from 6.7 percent in 2006.

More than two-thirds of them were jobless, and many lived on their own or suffered from chronic illnesses with expensive medical fees, the ministry said.

The report showed that 3.2 percent, or 1.5 million people, were living under the poverty line ― set at 1.4 million won ($1,217) a month for a family of four. Such families qualify for governmental aid.

Another 1.8 million people lived barely above that line, making less than 120 percent of the poverty wage, but were excluded from the benefits.

The state subsidy beneficiaries mostly lived alone: Single-member households accounted for 60.7 percent of the state subsidy beneficiaries and 60 percent of those near the poverty line. But only one-third of them had jobs.

Over 60 percent suffered chronic illnesses and said the medical fees were burdensome. The lowest earners had relatively little stress since most of their bills were covered by the state health insurance and allowances. But 4.8 percent of those near the poverty line who did not qualify for various welfare programs said the fees led them to give up treatment.

About 56.3 percent of state subsidy beneficiaries lived in rented accommodation on a monthly payment basis.

People spent a nearly equal amount of money on public education but when it came to private tutoring and other educational expenses, those in the lowest income brackets did not manage to provide as much education for their children as others. About 89 percent of poor families with university students had to spend more than 20 percent of their income on education.

About 17.4 percent of subsidy beneficiaries and 9.1 percent of those living just above the poverty line have been credit delinquents more than once in their lives.

The report is based on a survey by a committee under the Prime Minister’s Office, which sampled 18,000 families nationwide.

The committee said some two-track efforts to support those both below and just above the poverty line should be adopted.

“The ironic thing is if that people in the lowest income bracket receive the state subsidies, their total income surpasses that of people living right above the poverty line,” Kwon Deok-cheol, a ministry official, said.

“We will work on revising the standards for the lowest income bracket in order to prevent such things from happening,” he said.

The government also decided to continue providing cash for education and medical treatment for three additional years to families who have a member who starts work. The ministry explained that some people hesitate to get a job fearing the loss of state subsidies.

“We will maintain the provision of two subsidies for another three years from their work commencement. We will also support people willing to get a job in order to let them stand on their own feet,” Kwon said.

By Bae Ji-sook (
Korea Herald daum