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[News Focus] Korea sees discouraged workers increase 58% in 5 years

In 14 months, de facto jobless among people aged 15-29 up 300,000

A state-funded bank carries out online job interviews amid the COVID-19 pandemic in August 2020. (Export-Import Bank of Korea)
A state-funded bank carries out online job interviews amid the COVID-19 pandemic in August 2020. (Export-Import Bank of Korea)

SEJONG -- The number of people who have given up on looking for jobs has shown a steady increase in South Korea since the nation started compiling the data in January 2014. They are dubbed “discouraged workers.”

The tally for discouraged workers counts people who did not carry out job-seeking activities during the prior four weeks or longer, though they had looked for jobs within the past 12 months.

Alongside sagging performances in the job creation sector in recent years, the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the growing pace of the figure, the state data showed.

According to Statistics Korea, the number of discouraged workers was 475,000 five years ago in February 2016.

The figure increased by 58.3 percent to 752,000 in February 2021, which marked the second-highest figure recorded. The all-time high was January 2021 at 775,000.
(Graphic by Kim Sun-young/The Korea Herald)
(Graphic by Kim Sun-young/The Korea Herald)

The increase rate was higher among women, with the figure surging by 70.5 percent from 204,000 to 348,000 during the February 2016 to February 2021 period. The tally for male discouraged workers grew 49 percent.

“The figure and other relevant figures indicate that the novel coronavirus dealt the hardest blow to women in their 20s in terms of employment,” said a Seoul-based labor researcher.

It is estimated that a large portion of small and midsized businesses have scaled back the hiring of young workers, particularly women, over the past year since the epidemic initially hit the nation in late January 2020, he said.

According to other data held by Statistics Korea, the number of unemployed women in their 20s reached 186,000 in February 2021. This posted a growth of 39.8 percent from 133,000 in December 2019, or a month before the nation faced COVID-19 situation.

This outstripped the growth -- 27.4 percent -- of unemployed men in their 20s, from 164,000 to 209,000.

As of last month, both men and women in their 20s recorded the highest number of jobless (395,000) among the age groups, which also include 15-19, 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s or over.

The next on the list were those in their 60s or over with 305,000, followed by those in their 50s with 243,000, those in their 30s with 217,000 and those in their 40s with 173,000. The unemployed among those aged 15-19 stood at 22,000.

As for the working age population, aged 15-64, the jobless tally came to 1.17 million -- 652,000 men and 524,000 women -- as of February.

The extended-based jobless tally, which regards underemployed as de facto unemployed, shows the seriousness of the hiring market for the young generation.

According to the Supplementary Index III for Employment, held by Statistics Korea, the number of de facto jobless among those aged 15-29 reached 1.3 million with jobless rate of 26.8 percent in February. This category includes the underemployed, who work fewer than 36 hours a week and want to work more, as well as seasonal workers who are out of work for part of the year.

This contrasts to 1.01 million and the de facto unemployment rate of 20.8 percent for the same age group in December 2019. This means that the extended-based jobless rate for those 15-29 climbed 6 percentage points, under which the de facto unemployed increased by about 300,000 in just 14 months.

In contrast, the de facto jobless rate among the working age population, aged 15-64, was 15.7 percent in February, though that figure also rose from 11.1 percent in December 2019.

By Kim Yon-se (