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South Korea’s misery index reaches highest in 21 years

A shopping mart in Seoul (Yonhap)
A shopping mart in Seoul (Yonhap)

South Koreans experienced the greatest economic pain in May largely due to soaring consumer prices and higher unemployment rates, according to data on Monday. 

The nation’s “misery perceptions” index, calculated by adding the seasonally adjusted jobless rate to the annual inflation rate, stood at 8.4 in May, said Rep. Kim Hoi-jae of the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea, quoting data compiled by Statistics Korea.

It was the highest figure in 21 years since it marked the highest-ever 9.0 in 2001. The May figure rose by 1.8 percentage points from a year prior. 

The misery index, which measures how people actually feel about economic distress, was originally developed by Arthur Okun, an economist from the Brookings Institute, in the 1960s.

Data showed last month’s consumer prices shoot up by 5.4 percent on a one-year period, the largest increase since August 2008 (5.6 percent).

Rep. Kim said Russia’s prolonging invasion of Ukraine and its impact on the soaring prices of oil, processed food and other industrial goods have attributed to the overall rise in consumer prices as well as costs in the service sector. 

According to Statistics Korea, the price of industrial goods rose 8.3 percent in May, the largest increment since 2008. Prices of petroleum products rose by 34.8 percent, while prices of processed foods like flour and bread rose by 7.6 percent. Prices for dining out also rose by 7.4 percent, the largest increase in 24 years.

Meanwhile, the country’s unemployment rate came to 3 percent. It was the lowest figure since 2013.

The Yoon Suk-yeol government has estimated consumer prices will rise by 4.7 percent this year, about 2.5 percentage points higher than last year’s forecast. The unemployment rate is estimated to sit at 3.1 percent by the year-end, according to authorities. 

“The government should support vulnerable groups of people and come up with urgent mid- and long-term measures as they will face intensifying difficulties amid soaring consumer prices,” said Rep. Kim.

By Kim Da-sol (