[KS] How unequal is South Korea, really? Almost perfectly unequal, in Seoul.

Brother Anthony ansonjae at sogang.ac.kr
Tue Aug 22 22:28:23 EDT 2006

The land-ownership statistics at the end of the text quoted by Paul Shepherd are hair-raising. Yesterday my
favorite Korean journalist was telling me that many people believe that the explosion in apartment-based
living promoted during the later 1980s, and the demolition of almost all the housing that people on minimal
incomes could afford (rented rooms with a shared toilet and tap), was a deliberate strategy to oblige most
urban-dwellers (not only in Seoul) to accept such huge mortgage and loan burdens that they would only be
able to survive by working very hard and being careful not to compromise their income by strikes or union
militancy that might threaten social stability (and economic inequality). Everyone dreams of owning land
because that is seen as the only reliable form of wealth, and the 54% who do not are very aware that
certain people, often purely by chance and inheritance, own immense tracts.

Related to this issue is the following quotation from the Korea Times of August 20:

According to a report from the state-run Korea Development Institute (KDI), the number of employees at the
top 30 conglomerates, state-owned firms and financial firms declined to 13 million in 2004 from 15.7
million in 1997, affected by restructuring. Over the same period, the total number of employees in South
Korea increased by 13.4 million.

This means decent jobs offering high incomes and better opportunities for career development have fallen,
while the number of employees at small and mid-sized companies has risen for the past decade, the report said.

``South Korea has seen its total number of jobs increase since the Asian financial crisis thanks to
economic development, but there was little growth in terms of income,’’ the KDI said. ``This is due to a
fall in the number of jobs at companies offering high incomes. The income disparity may widen further
unless the government takes proper counter-measures.’’

Add to this the disappearance of jobs for unskilled laborers in the industrial sector and the main question
is how the poor survive at all. Students graduating from universities have a very hard time getting jobs,
and statistics suggest that a large proportion fail. This is mitigated by the dramatic drop in numbers
caused by the drop in the birthrate 25 years ago. Empty four-year-colleges and universities in the
provinces are busily laying off professors who have no one to teach.

No wonder so many people tried to get lucky gambling, until the latest scandal broke.

Br Anthony
Sogang University, Seoul, Korea

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