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Elderly Struggling to Find Jobs to Survive

Posted March. 08, 2010 09:45,   


“I came here because my son told me about this opportunity. I must do whatever I can to survive. When will you let me know the result? Please help me out...”

An old man answered questions from an interviewer at an application counter for jobs for senior citizens at Korea Land and Housing Corp.’s office in Seoul’s Nonhyeon district around 10 a.m. Thursday.

The interviewer asked, “Is your health okay? Your document suggests you are registered as having a grade 4 disability?”

The old man said, “I have a little pain in my joints because I had disease when I was young, but I have no problem because I’ve been mountain hiking. I can do whatever assignment I get.”

Behind him were more than 10 elderly people holding their own letters of self-introduction and waiting for their turns. The A 4-size letters were filled out.

The state-run housing corporation received applications to recruit “silver staff” aged 60 or older from Tuesday to Friday last week. It was recruiting part-time staff to supervise facility management and assist housing welfare at rental apartments across the country.

The employees will work four hours a day for six months for 500,000 won (420 U.S. dollars) per month.

A corporation staff member who received applications said, "We know senior citizens suffer economic difficulty, but we never expected so many applicants."

The final tally found that 22,107 submitted applications for 2,000 openings nationwide for a competitive ratio of 11:1 over the four-day application period.

○ Seeking jobs due to living difficulties

A 73-year-old man appealed to interviewers for a job, saying he was in a difficult situation. After retiring as a civil servant in a provincial region, he operated a real estate agency. The slump in the real estate market forced him to close his business, however.

Clients also prefer younger agents, so he got little business. “I have a son and daughter in their 20s, but they have yet to land jobs,” he said. “Hence, I’m the only one who can make money in my family, but getting a job is not easy since I am old.”

Many of the elderly who came to the interviews were desperately seeking a job to make living, rather than earning spending money or killing time.

One 71-year-old man said, “I used to deliver lunchboxes to a welfare center for senior citizens, but I was forced out days ago because I was deemed better off than other elderly people.”

“Since the competitive ratio is higher than I expected, I’ll likely have difficulty landing a job.”

Applicants included elderly men clad in mountain hiking attire, an old woman who wore makeup for the interview, and even a man in his 90s.

A 77-year-old man from Seoul’s Geoyeo district said, “I had to write my application three times last night because I don’t know how to use a computer.”

○ Over 30 percent of applicants in 70s

The elderly in bigger cities are more desperate to find jobs. According to the final tally of applications, the Seoul Metropolitan Government posted a competitive ratio of 16.7:1, followed by Daegu-North Gyeongsang Province with 11.9:1, and Busan-Ulsan 11.5:1. Overall urban regions posted higher competitive ratios.

Notably, the Seoul districts of Gwanak, and Dongjak, where more low-income elderly reside than in other areas, saw their competitive ratio soar to 51:1, with as many as 770 people applying for 15 openings. People in their 70s or older accounted for 31 percent of the applicants, suggesting little difference between age groups.

According to government statistics and other sources, Korea tops the world in the ratio of suicide by the elderly, and economic difficulty accounted for 33.9 percent of the cause for suicide. Experts say the suicide rate for Korea’s elderly will significantly fall if poverty can be resolved through employment.

constant25@donga.com jarrett@donga.com