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62 hours’ work weekly needed to escape poverty in Korea

South Korea’s single-income households earning minimum wage with two children must work at least 62 hours a week to live above the poverty line, a new research report showed. This means whoever is in charge of the household finances must work more than 12 hours daily, if he or she is allowed to work five days a week.

The report, published by the Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs, showed that such long work hours make it impossible for income earners of such households to balance work and life. In most countries, those who make less than 50 percent of the national median income are considered as living below poverty line.

Korea has one of the lowest minimum wages among the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries -- currently standing at 5,580 won ($4.86) an hour . In 2013, Korea’s minimum wage only accounted for 44 percent of the national median wage.
South Korea belongs to the most corrupt 20 percent of the 30 advanced countries, with a poverty rate of 14.6 percent. (Yonhap)
South Korea belongs to the most corrupt 20 percent of the 30 advanced countries, with a poverty rate of 14.6 percent. (Yonhap)

Among the OECD countries, Korea had the 11th longest work hours required for single-income households earning minimum wage with two children in order to beat poverty. Countries such as Australia and Iceland only required such households to work less than 20 hours a week to live above their poverty line.

“If it is nearly impossible to live above the poverty line without enduring such long work hours, it’s hard to say the current minimum wage system is benefiting Korea’s low-income earners,” the report said.

Last month, a report released by the World Economic Forum showed that Korea’s economic rents are highly concentrated in a few large family-run conglomerates while its national income distribution appears to be significantly unequal. The report used the Gini index, which measures income inequality within a range of zero to 100, where a value of 100 represents perfect inequality.

Korea’s post-transfer Gini index -- the income inequality rate after social security transfers, such as unemployment benefits, have been made -- marked 30.8 percent, ranking 18th among the 30 advanced economies.

Korea also belongs to the most corrupt 20 percent of the 30 advanced countries, with a poverty rate of 14.6 percent. Its poverty rate was also one of the highest among the 30 nations.

“Corruption (in Korea) is an area of concern, allowing those with power in various domains to extract rents,” the report said, adding that home and financial ownership in Korea are notably low while social protection, including health care, remains “quite limited.”

By Claire Lee (dyc@heraldcorp.com
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