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[Column] Unemployment crisis demands solution

Posted November. 08, 2000 15:02,   


The fear of mass unemployment has gripped the nation once again. As early as the end of this year, the number of the unemployed could reach 1 million, resulting in the rise of petty crimes for sustenance with countless numbers of homeless roaming the streets to once again place the very society at the brink of disaster.

Forecasts of 1 million jobless:

It cannot be ignored without anger how the government and businesses, which had led the Korean economic recovery for the past three years, could let the situation deteriorate to such degree of pain of unemployment and poverty. It seems to indicate that the crisis three years ago has not taught any lesson whatsoever to the Korean leadership.

In early 1998, the number of unemployed rose on a daily basis with many forced onto the streets. The greatest shock for the foreign experts and the International Monetary Fund, which intervened, was the very lack of a social safety net in a society with the degree of economic prosperity and scale such as Korea.

Today, three years following such a shocking revelation, and as Korea faces yet another economic crisis, what social safety nets does Korea possess?

One reason indicating the necessity of such a social safety nets is that the responsibility for the cyclic unemployment and destitution, which is common in the modern capitalistic societies, is not placed on the individual but on the society as it works toward a solution. Through such social efforts, a communal psychological union is fostered by assuring each individual that as a member of society, his woes are its responsibility.

However, the so-called social safety net offered by the social insurance (security) policy, rather than fostering social unity, it classifies the Korean people into two groups.

In other words, when faced with crisis other than that covered by the social insurance policy such as old age, unemployment, illness or industrial disaster, there is no option other than the loss of financial security and a spiral down to destitution.

Although the qualifications for subscribing to employment insurance and the loss of property insurance has been lowered, allowing even the employers with five or fewer employs to apply, still many of the laborers are without any social guarantee or insurance. Especially for temporary employees, who account for 82.1% of those out of work for less than a year, there is an imperative need for some level of social insurance policy. If the current policy is left unrevised, the social insurance policy might in the end forget its original purpose to help those who lack the means to survive but rather help those who have the means.

Another important function of a social safety net is to provide public (monetary) welfare assistance to those living below the minimum standard of living. However, the public assistance measure that was enacted in October has left out a large segment of our society due to its complicated standards and regulations. Especially, the medical insurance coverage that targets the beneficiaries of the welfare assistance requires them to pay partial hospital fees should they be judged to be employable yet without employment. As such, it has failed to recognize modern phenomenon of over-supply of employable men in a pool of limited employment.

Accordingly, although the government has embarked on welfare policy reform with the productive welfare as a national indicator, it must acknowledge that the reform is far from adequate in providing the necessary social safety net to address the current economic crisis.

Improvements needed in welfare administration:

It is necessary to return to the social unity consciousness offered by the Constitution. The government must establish practical policies and measures that will guarantee the "right to live lives fit for human beings," and must strictly and diligently adhere to the revisions in order to do so. The government must not make the repeated mistake of curtailing the budget and scope of social welfare systems when the economy improves, diverting all efforts toward budget balancing and economic promotion. Such only forces the government to once again be in a frenzy to resurrect the social safety net when the economy falters and unemployment soars.

As Korea faces business shutdowns and mass unemployment, the trembling social foundation points to an inadequate regimental mentality that needs resuscitation.

In other words, the lesson being taught through the economic crisis is that only through the establishment of "capitalism with human dignity" built on unity as all including those who have fallen by the wayside in this "jungle capitalism," where only materialism and unlimited competition are valued, we can find the path to overcoming the economic crisis and economic prosperity based on social unity.

Professor Moon Jin-Young, College of Social Science, Sogang University