Measures needed to ensure social vitality, cohesion
Published : 2013-12-06 20:11
Updated : 2013-12-06 20:11
Local economic researchers recently forecast that Korea’s per capita gross national income would reach a record high of $24,044 this year, up from $22,700 last year. This rosy estimate, which is owed largely to a moderate economic growth and the won’s appreciation against the U.S. dollar, seems out of touch with the gloomy perceptions held by a growing number of Koreans about their social and economic status.
A survey released by Statistics Korea on Wednesday showed that the proportion of people regarding themselves as members of the lower class rose from 45.3 percent in 2011 to 46.7 percent in 2013, the highest since the agency began the biennial poll in 1988.
The figure for those who placed themselves in the middle class slid to 51.4 percent from 52.8 percent over the same period, with the ratio of persons seeing themselves as upper class remaining unchanged at 1.9 percent.
In the survey of 38,000 people across the nation, 40.5 percent said they were suffering from economic hardship, up from 38.6 percent two years earlier. About 26 percent saw their income shrinking over the cited period, compared to 16 percent whose earnings rose.
Koreans have also become increasingly pessimistic about the possibility of their upward social mobility. Approximately 58 percent of the respondents were negative about whether they could go up the social ladder, with only 28.2 percent remaining positive. It was noticeable that nearly 40 percent had expectations that their children would achieve a higher status. This attitude seems to reflect their hope to be indirectly rewarded for their heavy spending on education for their children.
In what appears contradictory to their sliding expectations for social climbing, more Koreans are content with their living conditions. According to the survey, 31 percent of respondents saw their living conditions improving over the past two years.
This phenomenon of worsened stratum consciousness amid improvements in living conditions may be taken as epitomizing social and economic problems the country should tackle to make people’s livelihoods more secure and satisfactory.
A sense of relative deprivation has spread through middle and lower classes with the polarized social and economic structure, in which wealth is concentrated excessively among a small group of affluent people, having become consolidated. Middle-income earners feel more insecure as they are anxious about keeping their jobs in an increasingly competitive society and reel under growing household debt. With the number of people unprepared for their post-retirement life rising, the rapidly aging population will also exacerbate economic and social conditions.
People should be encouraged to be optimistic about their future to keep social vitality and cohesion. It is regrettable that their perceived economic status and expectations about upward social mobility have continued to be weakened under President Park Geun-hye’s administration. She took office in February with a pledge to build a society of happiness for 100 percent of the people. The administration needs to readjust and redress its economic and social policies to help people be assured of their future. In this regard, more substantial and effective measures should be set out to boost the country’s growth potential and finance selected welfare programs.