There are 7.13 million Korean baby boomers who were born between 1955 and 1963, or 14 percent of the total population. They will face difficult financial and social situations after retirement and the government should meet their different demands, Lee Ki-young, director of policy planning for baby boomers in retirement at the Ministry of Health and Welfare.
“The government has long focused on the survival of senior citizens from low-income households. But now is the time to consider a broader range of middle-aged citizens here,” Lee told The Korea Herald.
Lee Ki-young, director of policy planning for baby boomers in retirement at the Ministry of Health and Welfare, speaks to The Korea Herald. (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald)
Lee, professor of social welfare at Pusan National University, last year took the helm of a task force for the ministry’s baby boomer issues, the first of its kind installed within a government office.
For years, discussions have been active about the mass retirement of the baby boomer generation here, putting out gloomy outlooks about the aftermath.
According to Lee, members of the Korean baby boomer generation are at the peak of their assets. They earn more than any other generation, with their monthly income amounting to 3.86 million won, 1.12 times higher than the national average.
Lee said, however, they are also the most vulnerable generation after retirement as many of them have yet to be ready for a life without income.
A study by Seoul National University Institute of Aging shocked many early this year, saying that Korean baby boomers were saving only an average of 170,000 won per month for retirement, even though at least 2.11 million won is widely considered to be needed to maintain their current lifestyle.
“The problem is that it is unlikely that their expenditures could be reduced even after their retirement. They are left with unfinished missions such as children’s college tuition fees and marriage and support of their aging parents,” Lee said.
That is also the reason why more than 70 percent of Koreans reaching retirement age want to continue to work whether they do so by starting a new business or changing careers while those in advanced countries associate retirement life with freedom, spare time and travel.
So the government’s policy is now aimed at preventing retired people from falling below the poverty line right after retirement and supporting them to maintain or delay their employment.
While the Ministry of Employment and Labor is struggling to create more jobs for the generation and revise the nation’s working systems, the Health Ministry is seeking ways to propose job options that are contributing to social goods.
The ministry this year launched a pilot program that offers “civic engagement jobs” such as managers or advisors at welfare facilities and mentors for young students to former salaried workers.
The program is especially targeting those who “feel sick of working to earn money and want to something more meaningful both personally and socially,” Lee said.
A team of some 50 retired people, who were previously professionals such as engineers, teachers and CEOs, have already completed a three-week training program and are waiting to work at welfare facilities and other public organizations.
Lee admitted that the program has limitations to offer a “decent job with enough salary.” But he said the program has significance in its own way by creating new jobs in the sector and at the same time encouraging other sectors to join the initiative.
“If the past 10 years have been the period for soliciting public understanding about the issue, such discussions will be specified as government policy starting this year,” Lee said, adding that a national plan integrating years of discussion will be issued by September.
As an academic who studies social welfare, Lee pointed out one of the best ways to handle the issue is a revision to the nation’s working system, including the extension of retirement age.
“Even though the talks between the government and business have been stalled, I think there will be a groundbreaking agreement by 2018 when the nation becomes an aged society with its population aged 65 or older making up 14.3 percent of the total population.”
By Lee Ji-yoon (email@example.com