In the 1980s and ‘90s, young people carried an unmistakable sense of entitlement, enjoying the luxury of passing on job offers for one with a bigger paycheck..
The millions of young people toiling in the decimated job market of today are shocked into realization that the world of 2013 is very different.
University degrees have long ceased as a guarantee of employment and financial security, evidenced by a slew of bad data that show youth unemployment is blighting a generation. School leavers and graduates who manage to get on the employment ladder are still switching their companies frequently, but just because their jobs aren’t secure or well-paid anyway.
Economists warn that an entire generation of young people stuck in a pit of financial mediocrity could have a devastating effect on a nation that needs a dynamic workforce to jolt its frail economy.
The country’s increasingly top-heavy population also threatens to be a growth-buster, and it doesn’t inspire confidence that the generation that will be paying for the future welfare state and pensions is struggling so mightily.
Data from Statistics Korea show that income in households dependent on breadwinners in their 20s and 30s is growing at a pace about three times slower than households depending on those in their 40s and 50s.
During the July-September period of last year, households relying on income from people under-40 earned an average of 4.07 million won a month, representing a 2.67 percent improvement from the 3.97 million won a year earlier.
Households depending on workers in their 40s earned an average of 4.68 million won, a 7.42 percent increase year-on-year, while families carried by those in their 50s saw their monthly income rise 8.37 percent to 4.62 million won.
It represented the fourth consecutive quarter where income for households depending on workers in their 40s and 50s grew faster than those relying on those in their 20s and 30s, the longest streak since 2003.
Yoo Gyeong-joon, an economist from Korea Development Institute (KDI), stressed that the numbers don’t exactly mean that workers in their 40s and 50s are better off than their younger colleagues but rather more likely to have spouses or children sharing the financial burden.
“Households led by breadwinners in their 40s and 50s are more likely to be supported by secondary income earners and that may have driven their income growth. Jobs going to people in their 50s increased by more than 11 percent last year but those going to people in their 20s decreased by more than 5 percent,’’ Yoo said.
Still, there is no dispute that young people are bearing the brunt of the downturn. The unemployment rate of people between the ages of 15 and 29 was measured at 6.7 percent in November last year, dramatically higher than the headline rate of 2.9 percent.
There were 99,000 less people in their 20s with jobs in November compared to a year earlier when including the effects of the change in population structure. The realities were particularly harsh for those in their mid-to-late 20s, many of whom are finding it increasingly harder to justify the years and money spent on higher education, Statistics Korea said.
Perhaps the most damning revelation is the number of 20-somethings giving up looking for work is at its highest level in several years. As of November, 38.8 percent of people in their 20s were deemed as “economically inactive,’’ which means they were neither in work nor seeking employment, the highest level since 38.7 percent in February 1988.
More of the new jobs added over the past year went to people over 50, confirming that the jobless rate has been softened by low-paid, casual jobs.
“With the economic downturn intensifying, companies are compensating by extending the working hours of their existing employees or hiring older, more experienced workers to fill their contingency needs,’’ said Lee Ji-sun, an economist from the LG Economics Research Institute (LGERI).
“The rising unemployment rate of those in their mid-to-late 20s seems to be affected by the increase in the economically inactive population as more of them give up looking for employment.’’
Critics accuse policymakers of treating the unemployment problem among young people more as a political football than a serious concern. Perhaps it’s hard for the plight of young people to be considered a front-burner issue when they earn less, spend less and are taxed less.
And they are less of a bet to appear at polling booths compared to their politically-intense parents, evidenced by a staggering 89.9 percent participation rate measured among voters in their 50s in the recent presidential election won by conservative candidate Park Geun-hye.
The concern is that the marginalization of young people is already creating deeper problems that go beyond economic issues as the lengthy periods of struggling in low-quality jobs or unemployment are inflicting psychological harm and breeding a sense of resentment. Government figures show that suicide is now the biggest cause of death for people in their 20s and 30s.