Experts expect no rebound in coming months
By Lee Kyung-min
Korea shed 218,000 jobs in 2020 from a year earlier due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the sharpest decline in employment in 22 years since 1998 when the Asia financial crisis wiped out over 1.27 million jobs, according to Statistics Korea data, Wednesday.
On a monthly basis, 628,000 jobs disappeared in December amid strengthened social distancing measures following the third wave of the coronavirus, in a highly troubling continuation of the rapid job losses seen over the previous 10 consecutive months.
Employment data in the forthcoming months are not expected to show a recovery fast since small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) have remained shut for the past two months.
On a monthly basis, the decline of ten consecutive months is the second-longest period of worsening unemployment since the 16 months from January 1998 to April 1999 following the Asian crisis.
It also surpassed the previous eight consecutive months of decline from January through August in 2009 during the global financial crisis.
Seoul National University economist Kim So-young said the job market will not see a recovery any time soon, hurting low-income earners the most.
"The lives of many small business owners have been devastated following strengthened social distancing rules, with their extremely strained financial condition likely to take a turn for the worse in the coming months. Government orders to shut down left them with no income and part-time workers hired were let go as a result."
The number of employed people was 26.94 million last year, down 218,000 from a year earlier. The year-on-year decrease came 11 years after 2009 when the global financial crisis slashed 87,000 jobs.
Two other previous year-on-year decreases were reported in 1984 (76,000) amid global oil shocks and in 2003 (10,000) following the credit card crisis.
On a yearly basis, workers of all age groups lost jobs except for those aged 60 and older.
The oldest group saw 375,000 jobs added ― however, people in their 30s saw 165,000 jobs evaporate; those in their 40s, 158,000; in their 20s, 146,000; and 50s, 88,000.
Industries hit by the social distancing rules continued to report substantial job losses, notably wholesale and retail (160,000), hospitality (159,000), and education (86,000).
Sectors that added jobs included social welfare services (130,000), transportation and storage (51,000), and agriculture, forestry and fisheries (50,000).
The number of people who said they had been "resting" spiked to 837,000. The year-on-year increase of 430,000 is a record high since 1980 when the statistics agency began compiling related data.
Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Hong Nam-ki said state-run organizations will provide more than 45 percent of "new" jobs for the first half of the year, a job-creation effort backed further by the hiring of 22,000 interns before April.
"A 5.1 trillion won ($4.6 billion) budget allocated for job creation will be spent in the first quarter. The extension of the social safety net scheduled to end in March will be reconsidered," he said during a ministerial-level meeting at the Seoul Government Complex in Gwanghwamun.
Meanwhile, over a third of small business owners that applied for the third round of emergency relief received between 1 million won and 3 million won from Monday to early Tuesday, less than 24 hours after they applied for the cash assistance, according to the SMEs ministry. They account for 36.5 percent of the 2.76 million eligible for the state support.
The number increased to about 2.09 million people who received a combined 2.96 trillion won as of 8 a.m., Wednesday, with 76 percent of those eligible having sought the assistance.