Published : 2013-08-22 19:41
Updated : 2013-08-22 19:41
Recent data from the national statistics office showed that the proportion of people aged 50 and older among the country’s working population reached an all-time high in June. The number of workers in this age group stood at 9.36 million at the end of June, accounting for 35.6 percent of Korea’s economically active population of 26.2 million. This proportion represented a sharp increase from 24 percent recorded a decade ago. Workers aged 60 and above took up 13.6 percent of the population that was economically active in June, reaching an all-time high, according to the Statistics Korea data.
Cited by many analysts as the main reason for the rising number of older workers is Koreans being forced to continue working after retirement as the prolonged economic downturn has made it increasingly difficult to make ends meet. The steep decrease in asset values, in particular, has dealt them a harsh financial blow. The average price of real estate, which accounts for nearly 80 percent of local households’ wealth, fell by 3 percent from a year earlier in 2012 in the Seoul metropolitan area. The local stock market has also been down by double digits so far this year.
Seen from a different viewpoint, the growing presence of older Koreans in the workplace reflects the emergence of a new type of senior willing to work in their later years, savvy with Internet and mobile technologies and ready to spend money keeping up their lifestyle. People in their 50s, in particular, constitute the core part of the group termed “active seniors.”
In a recent survey of adults aged 20-59, all 50-something respondents said they hoped to keep working after retirement, and more than 75 percent of them cited a lack of opportunities to do so as the most serious problem facing them. The poll, conducted by a local research institute last month, showed 92 percent and 26.8 percent of people in their 50s had experience shopping through the Internet or mobile devices, respectively. About half of them described their generation as capable and active.
The expanding proportion of elderly workers coupled with the emergence of active seniors entails a complex set of tasks that should be tackled by the government, corporations and society as a whole in a comprehensive and coordinated manner.
The rapid aging of the workforce may further weaken the competitiveness of the manufacturing sector as the gap is widening between rising labor costs and stalled productivity. The average age of workers, which rose from 37.5 in 2006 to 39.9 in 2012, is expected to exceed 40 this year, according to the Ministry of Employment and Labor. In July, the number of newly employed people increased by 486,000 from a year earlier among those in their 50s and 60s, while the corresponding figures for 20-somethings and 30-somethings decreased by 80,000 and 49,000, respectively. A closer look into the data showed most of the aged workers landed low-paid, irregular jobs shunned by more educated youth.
Effective measures, including the introduction of a wage peak system, are needed to help companies shore up competitiveness and hire more young workers. It is also necessary to settle the deteriorating job mismatch by reducing the overeducated workforce.
In parallel with these steps, long-term efforts should be made to provide seniors who want to remain active and useful for their family and society with more chances to do so. More training programs tailored for them should be implemented.
Thorough and sophisticated preparations for keeping active seniors in the workforce and balancing job distribution with younger generations will hold the key to ensuring the nation’s further growth and advancement.