Korea”s Aging Workers Fight Over Jobs

koreaWith youth unemployment near a 15-year high and the government planning to raise the retirement age, intergenerational conflict over jobs is rising in South Korea.

The jobless rate for workers aged 15 to 29 touched 11 percent earlier this year and is about four times higher than for those aged 40 and above. At the other end of the spectrum, Korea has an underdeveloped pension system and the highest elderly poverty rate in the OECD, as companies push employees in their fifties into early retirement to contain costs.

An overall unemployment rate that?s close to the 10-year average belies the difficulty facing policy makers seeking to balance the needs of the young and the old as society ages and economic growth eases after the heady gains of previous decades.

Working longer would have helped Lee Jong Ho, 59, who retired from Korea Railroad Corp. two years ago and has been looking for another job ever since. Lee?s 2.2 million won ($1,970) monthly pension isn?t enough to support him and his wife, after pouring savings into raising their children.

?Healthy people like me should work at least until 70 given that the average life span of people now is easily over 80,? said Lee. ?I know that extending the retirement age could mean fewer jobs for young people. I?m willing to get paid a little less if I can keep working.?

While currently there is no official retirement age in South Korea, a typical worker?s career ends around 53, government data show. After that, many try to get by on a combination of pension payments, savings, part-time work or small business ventures.

A new law taking effect next year mandates that large companies allow employees to work until at least 60.

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