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[Editorial] Poverty of Korea`s Elderly

Posted September. 02, 2009 05:02,   


The domestic poverty rate for people aged 65 or over is 45.1 percent, the highest among member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. This means nearly half of the elderly in the country are in abject poverty, living on less than half the median income. Under such a condition, Korea is surely not on the threshold of becoming an advanced country. The suicide rate of Korea’s elderly is the highest in the world and has everything to do with the high poverty among senior citizens.

The number of senior citizens in the country exceeded five million last year, comprising 10.3 percent of the population. As Koreans are no longer willing to support their parents in their old age, a functioning social safety net for the elderly is badly needed. Helping the elderly should top the government agenda in this regard.

According to OECD data on pension, Korean senior citizens earn 42.1 percent of their average incomes before retirement, including pension, much lower than the OECD average of 59 percent. The low income is attributed to lack of jobs for the elderly and a weak pension system. Worse, the elderly poor are not entitled to pension.

Poverty in old age means illness and loneliness for the victims and a growing burden for the government. Poor senior citizens strain the health care system because they frequently seek medical attention. If not supported by their relatives, they should get government assistance. For this reason, the government should urgently take up the task of reducing the number of the elderly poor if it wants to enhance national competitiveness.

Senior citizens today are different from those in the past in that they are healthier and more educated. They want to work as long as their health allows. The domestic health care system can benefit from working senior citizens in light of their relative health. So giving them jobs is the best social safety net for them.

As the job market for the elderly expands, an institutional and social environment conducive to the working elderly is needed by introducing a wage peak system and expanding networks for employment of the silver generation. Instead of providing unconditional welfare to the elderly, the government should focus on training programs and job creation appropriate for the age group. To support the aging population, the ranks of the younger workforce should also increase. As the country’s rapidly aging population inevitably weakens economic vitality, raising the country’s birth rate, which is the world’s lowest, is another major solution to the problems stemming from the aging population.

Because of limitations in state support, however, the elderly themselves must make adequate preparations for their later years.