The Korea Herald


Aging Korea needs foreign caregivers: report

By Lee Jaeeun

Published : March 5, 2024 - 14:19

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South Korea should come up with various measures to attract foreign nationals to work here as care workers, as the country faces a shortage in the sector to care for its rapidly aging society, a report by the Bank of Korea argued, Tuesday.

The cost of hiring a care worker at a nursing home or other facilities was estimated at 3.7 million won ($2,775) per month as of last year, according to the report titled “Measures to alleviate the care service labor shortage and cost burden” released by the central bank on March 5.

The figure is 1.7 times the monthly median household income for those 65 and older, 2.24 million won. Demand for care workers is projected to rise with the rapid aging of the population, while the number of care workers in the country is not expected to increase, the report said. The median household income is an indicator of the income level of the household unit.

Care workers are hired to assist older and sick people either in their homes or at nursing home facilities. Their responsibilities range from helping people dress, eat and wash to changing their diapers. While the demand is expected to surge as Korean society rapidly ages, such low-paid, physically and emotionally demanding work with low job security is being shunned by Korean nationals.

The country is now grappling with an increasing shortage of paid care workers, and the overall demand for them is expected to increase even more in the future, according to the report.

The report said a total of 190,000 more care workers were needed here in 2022, and it estimates the figure will rise to 380,000-710,000 by 2032 and 610,000-1.55 million by 2042. This increase may cause various problems, including a decreased average quality of services, it said.

Moreover, as the cost of care labor increases, more family caregivers -- usually women -- will be expected to look after their families, resulting in economic losses as family caregivers’ labor market participation is constrained.

The economic losses caused by family caregivers were estimated to reach 19 trillion won in 2022, and they will be 46 to 77 trillion won by 2042, according to the report.

The report suggested a raft of measures to bring in foreign nationals to work as care workers in an attempt to fill the looming shortage it estimated.

Oh Sam-il, head of the employment analysis team at the Bank of Korea, said it would be impossible to meet this increasing demand for care labor with Korean national workers alone. However, it will not be easy to reach a social consensus on applying a different, lower minimum wage to foreign nationals than Korean care workers, he added.

South Korea is also a signatory to International Labor Organization Convention No. 111, which prohibits discrimination in employment and occupation, so any foreign nationals in the care or other fields have to be paid the same minimum wage as Korean nationals, the report concluded.