The Korea Herald


More self-employed work alone in Korea

By Kim Yon-se

Published : Aug. 29, 2022 - 16:18

    • Link copied

This photo shows an application form for unemployment benefits on the screen at a regional office of the Employment and Welfare Plus Center in Seoul in 2020. (Yonhap) This photo shows an application form for unemployment benefits on the screen at a regional office of the Employment and Welfare Plus Center in Seoul in 2020. (Yonhap)
SEJONG -- The number of self-employed people without employees came to the highest in 14 years in South Korea amid the surge in food deliverymen and business startups among retirees, state data showed Monday.

The nation’s self-employed is split into two groups: those who hire several workers as micro-business owners, and those who do not hire any employees. The latter are also called own-account workers.

According to Statistics Korea, the number of own-account workers, who work alone, reached 4.33 million as of July, which marked an increase by 490,000 compared to a year earlier.

Among any July in the past, this was the highest since the relevant tally peaked at 4.56 million in 2008.

The self-employed working alone posted an on-year increase for the 42nd consecutive month starting from February 2019.

Market insiders say this is attributable to the rapid spike in the number of motorcycle-based food deliverymen working for online delivery platforms over the past few years. Social distancing in the wake of the pandemic has also fanned the surge in the number of delivery-oriented riders.

Statistics Korea data on the economically active population showed that the portion of people engaging in the transportation service and warehousing increased by 2.5 percentage points in four years from 13.9 percent in July 2018 to 16.4 percent in July 2022.

It is estimated that the trend is attributable to active startups among Korean baby boomers, classified locally by government officials and experts as those born between 1955 and 1963. A large portion of these people in their 60s and late 50s are retirees from salaried jobs.

The collective tally for the self-employed inched down from 5.7 million in July 2018 to 5.69 million in July 2022. In contrast, the number of the self-employed aged 60 and over increased by 23.8 percent from 1.65 million to 2.04 million.

Further, the number of own-account workers aged 60 and over increased by 27.1 percent from 1.38 million to 1.76 million over the corresponding period.

“It is estimated that a variety of jobs, including platform-based workers, have been reflected in the tally,” an official said. “In addition, those engaging in agriculture and fisheries increased as (the portion of) senior population climbed.”

Of the own-account workers, the share of those engaging in the agriculture and fisheries industries rose from 21.6 percent to 23.5 percent in the four-year period.

A Dankook University professor was quoted by a local news outlet as saying that “automated order services via kiosk or serving robots are forecast to accelerate the trend that hires no employees among the self-employed.”

The professor also picked drastic minimum wage hikes and the COVID-19 pandemic as the main factors for the self-employed not hiring employees.

By Kim Yon-se (