South Korea’s employment rate has surged to the highest level in 12 years, largely driven by a huge return of economically inactive middle-aged workers to employment, the Ministry of Employment and Labor said Monday.
The ministry said in its labor report that 767,000 people had been newly employed in January and February, marking the fastest growth since March 2002.
Authorities note that the growing participation of economically inactive people in the job market ― those that have either chosen not to find work or given up looking for job ― played a major role in the recent turnaround, with female baby boomers in their 50s and 60s accounting for 48.5 percent.
The data is also good news for President Park Geun-hye, who has pledged to raise the country’s employment rate to 70 percent by 2017 by focusing on bringing stay-at-home moms back into the workforce.
“The sudden increases in the employment rate in 1997 and 2008 were temporary rebounds during the recovery from a financial crisis. Given that the recent figures are accompanied by a big fall in the number of economically inactive people, it’s a positive indicator of the current job market,” the ministry said in its report.
In February 2000, Korea saw the number of economically inactive people fall 279,000 as the country recovered from the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis. In 2010, after the global financial meltdown, the figure logged 70,000, about one-eighth of the latest drop.
Despite the figures, authorities noted that achieving this year’s employment goal of 65.6 percent from the current 64.4 percent would not be easy.
Youth employment rate remains the Achilles heel of the Korean job market.
The jobless rate among people aged 15-29 was 10.9 percent last month, the highest since January 2000, when the figure hit 11 percent. The youth employment rate also saw a 1.6 percent surge in February, marking the highest level in six months.
“We need to interpret the hiring rate and unemployment rate together. Both figures rising is a sign that more people are willing to work, and more people have the ability to work. It’s more of a long-term indication that the employment rate will rise when the economy recovers at the right time,” employment policy director Kwon Ki-seop said.
By Suk Gee-hyun (firstname.lastname@example.org)