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Job data reflects manufacturing, youth frustration

South Korea’s jobless rate inched up in January, as job conditions in the manufacturing sector continued to deteriorate and more young people stopped looking for work, government data showed Wednesday.

The jobless rate in January stood at 3.8 percent, up 0.1 percentage point from a year earlier, data from the Ministry of Strategy and Finance showed. It marks the highest since April 2016, when the tally was 3.9 percent. 

The number of jobless people exceeded the 1 million mark in January, up from 980,000 recorded the year before.

Despite an increase in the service and construction sectors, the number of employed people in the manufacturing sector declined for the seventh consecutive month.

The Finance Ministry attributed the decline to ongoing restructuring in the shipping and shipbuilding sectors. The manufacturing sector recorded a drop of 160,000 jobs last month. Job cuts in the sectors are expected to continue, as the top three shipbuilding companies plan to cut some 140,000 jobs this year.

The number of employed people was 25.68 million last month, adding 243,000 from a year ago, rising less than 250,000 for the first time since February 2016.

“In terms of the number of jobs added, it is not that far off from the government’s annual goal of 260,000, but the problem is the quality of the jobs,” Lee Chan-woo, deputy minister of the Finance Ministry, told reporters Wednesday.

Lee pointed to an increasing number of people who may have involuntarily been pushed into self-unemployment in the face of the tough job market and young people who gave up job-seeking efforts.

The youth unemployment rate, meanwhile, for people aged between 15 and 29 reached 8.6 percent in January, down from the 9.5 percent recorded a year ago.

The ministry said that an increase in youths who gave up looking for jobs altogether, thereby effectively excluding themselves from being categorized as unemployed, ironically lowered the youth jobless rate.

The deputy minister said the unemployment situation might get worse this month when high school and college graduations take place.

The number of self-employed rose by 169,000, at the fastest pace since July 2012, with a big portion of the newly added self-employed people believed to in their 50s, according to the ministry.

By Park Ga-young  (