South Korea added 516,000 jobs in December, the fastest growth in more than five years, and finished 2019 at its best-ever employment rate. But the feat could be discredited as details show that manufacturers and self-employed with paid hires shed jobs by a record number last year.
The total number of employed stood at 27.15 million in December, up 516,000 or 1.9 percent from the same month a year ago, according to Statistics Korea on Wednesday. The gain was the largest after 670,000 in August 2014.
Payroll additions for full 2019 totaled 301,000, up 1.1 percent against the meager figure of 97,000 in 2018, the lowest since the global financial crisis a decade ago.
The employment rate of Koreans aged 15 to 64 – the standard of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development – was 67.1 percent in December, up 0.6 percentage point from a year earlier. For the full year, it was 66.8 percent, a record high.
The December unemployment rate was the same as last year’s at 3.4 percent. For all of 2019, it was 3.8 percent, unchanged from the previous year.
Seniors continued to drive the job growth, helped by heavy government spending to create public sector jobs for the elderly. The employment rate for those aged 60 and older jumped 2.2 percentage points to 40.5 percent in December. Only the 40s saw their employment rate slip, down 0.6 percentage point to 78.4 percent.
The state-sponsored hiring scheme continued to pump more jobs in healthcare and social welfare, adding 178,000 jobs from a year earlier. The accommodation and restaurant sector also created 100,000 jobs, and the culture, sports and recreational service sector 88,000 jobs.
Manufacturers continued to struggle, with construction shedding 28,000 jobs. Retailers slashed 94,000 jobs, and finance and insurance firms 30,000 jobs.
Key figures raised questions about the sustainability in the job data.
The number of employed in their 30s and 40s, the peak working age, was reduced by 162,000 and 53,000, respectively, in 2019. The drop in the 40s age group was the biggest since 1991. Part-timers, or hires working one to 17 hours per week, increased by the largest-ever number of 301,000.
The manufacturing sector, responsible for a majority of the decent paying jobs, cut payroll by 81,000 last year, the biggest loss since data compiling was revised in 2013. The number of self-employed with hires fell by 114,000, the largest since 1998, while self-employed with no paid hires gained 81,000 to underscore the hardship of self-employed businesses due to the spike in labor cost.
By Kim Hyo-jin
[ⓒ Pulse by Maeil Business Newspaper & mk.co.kr, All rights reserved]