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

William Brown wmbbrown at hotmail.com
Thu Aug 24 22:18:33 EDT 2006

The figure on the growth of the labor force here is ten times too large. A 
50 million populaton could hardly support an  increase in employment of 13.4 
million in the space of 7 years, as cited. I looked up the data in the NSO 
and it shows employment increased by 1.34 million  (21.2-22.6). All of the 
growth was in the older than 40 component; a rapid decline is already being 
observed in the less than 40 brackets.


This is a common error in Korean translations (as Koreans and other East 
Asians think generally in terms of 4 places (ten thousand) rather than 3 
place (thousands)  as discussed earlier on this site. I wonder if in this 
case the error can be attributable to poor original data by KDI (not likely 
given the magnitude) or by the Korea Times writing in Englilsh.

As the numbers of young workers continues to fall off at a dramatic rate, 
this may cause a decline in return on capital as wages will likely be bid up 
and profits fall.  This may help to even the income distribution, as it has 
in Japan, but it may also slow economic growth. Workers might be better off 
not owning their housing for the next few years, waiting for housing and 
land prices to return to earth.

South Korea, by the way, has an excellent statistical system and many 
economists writing, I'm sure, exhaustively on this topic.  We don't need to 
depend on anecdots or Korea Times stories  for the answers.

----Original Message Follows----
From: Brother Anthony <ansonjae at sogang.ac.kr>
Reply-To: ansonjae at sogang.ac.kr,Korean Studies Discussion List 
<koreanstudies at koreaweb.ws>
To: Korean Studies Discussion List <koreanstudies at koreaweb.ws>
Subject: Re: [KS] How unequal is South Korea, really? Almost perfectly 
unequal, in Seoul.
Date: Wed, 23 Aug 2006 11:28:23 +0900

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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