[KS] How unequal is South Korea, really?

Vladimir Tikhonov vladimir.tikhonov at ikos.uio.no
Thu Aug 24 11:14:12 EDT 2006

Well, in the university in Seoul where I used to spend my happy student 
days 15 years ago, a cleaner - not a permanent employee, of course, just 
a "flexible" worker supplied by some cleaning company, which would, in 
its turn, tap the resources of some manpower agency, and so on, and so 
on (there may be 2-3 more levels) - receives around Won 700.000. These 
people usually shun even the cheapest university eateries - they really 
have to spare on everything to be able to provide some basics for 
themselves and their families. But at the same university, a tenured 
professor (with full professorship) would probably make not less than 
Won 5.000.000. Then, the question is - will the cleaner's daughter, be 
she even a genius, be ever able to get the money for the needed private 
tutoring before the university entry exams (at least Won 400.000-500.000 
a month, and it is the very minimum) and then attend that university, 
with tutition soaring now to Won 8.000.000-9.000.000 per annum? I am 
amazed by the very way the question was formulated - "how unequal is 
South Korea, really?" You expect a country where the working class was 
allowed to politically organize itself in the end of the 1990s for the 
first time after the 1940s, where the "mainstream" press routinely 
condemns the striking/demonstating workers for "violence" every time 
some of them are killed or maimed by the police, and where the biggest 
conglomerate contributing 20% to the country's exports is 
(unconstitutionally) banning the unions and gets away with this, to be 
an "equal" society?

On 24.08.2006 02:48, Norman Thorpe wrote:
> A Korea Times article on Aug. 1 also may reflect a
> declining sense of economic equality and job
> stability. The report was about a survey conducted by
> the Seoul Economic Daily July 20-22. Much of the
> article was about views on the Korea-US FTA
> negotiations, but it also contained these paragraphs:
> "The survey also showed that the number of those who
> think they belong to the middle class is decreasing.
> Around 36 percent said they were middle-class citizens
> in September 2005, but that figure dwindled to 25.5
> percent in July 2006. 
> "The respondents also said that to be considered rich,
> they should have more than 1.17 billion won ($1.1
> million) in financial assets, excluding real estate.
> (The 1.17 billion won figure may be an average of the
> responses -- NT)
> "Around 62 percent of those interviewed consider
> investment in real estate the best way for increasing
> wealth.....
> "Most of the respondents said the proper age for
> retirement is 61.2, with around 61 percent of them
> believing they will be able to retire from the
> companies they are currently working for. 
> (Again, 61.2 may be the average of what the
> respondents said was the proper age for retirement --
> NT)
> "Nearly 94 percent of the respondents said it is
> necessary to introduce a ``salary peak'' system that
> reduces salaries after a certain age in return for a
> guarantee that they can continue to work until their
> retirement."
> http://search.hankooki.com/times/times_view.php?term=middle+class++&path=hankooki3/times/lpage/nation/200607/kt2006073117171411950.htm&media=kt
> If you have trouble with the link, just go to
> www.koreatimes.co.kr and use the search button to
> search for "middle class" .  
> Norman Thorpe
> Whitworth College
> --- Brother Anthony <ansonjae at sogang.ac.kr> wrote:
>>The land-ownership statistics at the end of the text
>>quoted by Paul Shepherd are hair-raising. Yesterday
>>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
>>incomes could afford (rented rooms with a shared
>>toilet and tap), was a deliberate strategy to oblige
>>urban-dwellers (not only in Seoul) to accept such
>>huge mortgage and loan burdens that they would only
>>able to survive by working very hard and being
>>careful not to compromise their income by strikes or
>>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
>>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
>>while the number of employees at small and mid-sized
>>companies has risen for the past decade, the report
>>``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
>>fall in the number of jobs at companies offering
>>high incomes. The income disparity may widen further
>>unless the government takes proper
>>Add to this the disappearance of jobs for unskilled
>>laborers in the industrial sector and the main
>>is how the poor survive at all. Students graduating
>>from universities have a very hard time getting
>>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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Vladimir Tikhonov,
Department of Culture Studies and Oriental Languages,
Faculty of Humanities,
University of Oslo,
P.b. 1010, Blindern, 0315, Oslo, Norway.
Fax: 47-22854828; Tel: 47-22857118
Personal web page: http://folk.uio.no/vladimit/
Electronic classrooms: East Asian/Korean Society and Politics:
                        East Asian/Korean Religion and Philosophy:

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