Go to contents


Posted March. 23, 2005 22:50,   


The headache over the so-called “NEETs” began to emerge in affluent Europe during the 1990s. It was then that the British first coined this acronymic term meaning “Not in Education, Employment, or Training.” Whereas the unemployed represent those in the work force lacking the means but yet are willing to work, these job-deprived are short of any commitments altogether. Japan is home to some 850,000 young men and women within the 15 to 34 years age group that neither have a job, go to school, nor have heard from a job trainer.

One of every three Japanese youths is grouped into what is called a “freeter” category, shorthand for “free arbeiter.” They live with their parents and seek part-time jobs only when prompted by an empty pocket. This attitude compares with the NEET people who, though never the societal role models, at the very least shelter a desire for employment.

Not so in the case of freeters. The paucity of appealing jobs in the economy is one argument for their prevalence, but the attitude is rooted in much deeper psychological changes sweeping the youth of Japan. In the old days, destitute and hunger drove people to work. Today, however, abundance breeds lethargy; NEET-citis is an affliction of the well-to-do.

A similar strain of the phenomenon is called “silver spoon syndrome” in the U.S., conjuring the image of plush silverware in wealthy homes. It points to an unmotivated lifestyle of parent-dependency that shuns engagement with the wider world, sometimes spilling well past the age of 30. Languor, financial frivolity, addiction (be it alcohol, drugs, gambling or sex), an ego-centric outlook and a human-relations fiasco are tell-tale signs of this disorder. A drifting life deficient of any goals and motivations would be another description.

The unemployment rate for Korean youths topped 8.6 percent as of last month, well over the overall figure for the general population. A deluge of desperate jobless youths and college graduates is overwhelming the work application queues, translating into hundreds of rejections for every acceptance, even at firms of modest caliber. Our young men and women yearn for decent tasks at a solid workplace. A far cry from the situation in Europe and Japan, here it is seldom the individual that is to blame and NEED-citis is hardly the fad.

The culprit, rather, seems to be a stiff economic structure and backward governmental policies ill-equipped to create considerable job opportunities for our young.

Hwang Ho-taek, Editorial writer, hthwang@donga.com