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Employment rate recovers to 80% of pre-pandemic levels, minister says

Office workers cross streets near Seoul City Hall during lunch hour on Wednesday. (Yonhap)
Office workers cross streets near Seoul City Hall during lunch hour on Wednesday. (Yonhap)

The recovery of South Korea’s job market picked up steam as more than 600,000 positions were added back to the economy in May, surpassing that mark for the second consecutive month, government data showed Wednesday.

Statistics Korea found that the number of employed people reached 27.6 million last month, 619,000 more than a year earlier, as Asia’s fourth-largest economy continued its recovery from the virus-caused downturn. The base effect from severe job losses last year lifted this year’s growth.

The upward trend in employment started in March, following a yearlong job-losing streak that started in March last year. In April the country reported the largest job growth in almost seven years, adding 652,000 more posts than a year earlier.

Finance Minister Hong Nam-ki said more than 80 percent of jobs had been restored compared with February last year, just before the COVID-19 outbreak ravaged the economy.

“Following last month, the number of people in employment continued to grow by more than 600,000 in May. It raises expectations for future employment recovery,” he said.

The hiring rate for those aged 15 and older stood at 61.2 percent, up 1 percentage point, with the rate for young Koreans aged between 15 and 29 having jumped to 44.4 percent, the highest May reading since 45.5 percent in May 2005.

People in their 30s and 40s, however, shed 69,000 jobs and 6,000 positions, respectively.

Buoyed by export growth, the manufacturing sector continued to add jobs in May with 19,000 positions but the service sector struggled to hire new employees.

“The employment situation is still difficult for the wholesale and retail industry and the self-employed, which are undergoing changes in the employment structure such as expansion of non-face-to-face distribution. Measures for jobs for the employment-vulnerable class such as women are important policy tasks that need to be addressed immediately,” Hong said.

The wholesale and retail sector reported a fall of 136,000 jobs in May, as compared with a decline of 182,000 the previous month. The accommodation and food service segment reported job additions for the second straight month, with an on-year gain of 4,000 jobs last month.

By Park Han-na (