The Dong-A Ilbo’s special series “the triple-struggle generation during COVID-19” shows the extreme situation into which young South Koreans have been pushed. There is even a series of young people dying alone after dealing with three struggles of job search, economic challenge, and social isolation. Young people will be pushed further to the brink of the precipice unless comprehensive measures are quickly put forward by closely examining their current situations.
The fundamental reason behind young people’s current struggles is a lack of job opportunities. The unemployment rate of those aged 15 to 29 was over 10 percent last month, which is similar to that during the Asian financial crisis in 1999. As stores closed or reduced business hours due to COVID-19, finding a part-time job has become even more challenging. According to a survey conducted by the Dong-A Ilbo and a Korean online recruiting platform “JobKorea” of 607 young people, about one-third of participants responded they do not have any income. Those on which the future of the nation is dependent are forced to work short-term part-time jobs and fall into chronic unemployment without them. Without any income, it is difficult for them to take classes or obtain credentials in an effort to find a job.
High housing costs present another major economic challenge to young people. About one-third of young people living alone spent over 30 percent of their income on housing. As their income tends to be low and saving a large sum of money is almost impossible accordingly, there are no alternatives to paying monthly rents. Those from rural areas move to Seoul, work as an intern, and pay monthly rents, ending up with an extremely tight budget – sometimes to the point that they have to skip meals, as the easiest costs to be reduced are food. As housing prices skyrocketed, even those who found a job and save money find it challenging to buy a house. This leads to a number of young people who turn to short-term stock trading or speculative investment in cryptocurrency and lose money for college tuitions or rents.
The triple struggles caused by COVID-19 also produce socially withdrawn loners who live in isolation from society. According to the National Youth Policy Institute, there are about 135,000 people who chose this lifestyle. The frustration felt by young people who could not find their place in society even with “the best qualifications ever since the foundation of Gojoseon” is quickly leading to depression, damaging both physical and mental health. Found in small rooms of young people who committed suicide due to economic reasons are a stack of resumes and leftover delivery foods. Comprehensive and multi-layered support is needed for their mental health.
The South Korean government has repeated patch-up solutions – creating temporary jobs with taxes or giving subsidies – rather than creating sustainable high-quality jobs. The issues of young people, which are worsening due to the prolonged pandemic, should not be approached as a temporary problem during the period of job seeking. Talents needed by businesses are not produced enough due to outdated regulations, such as a rigid quota system for colleges. Reducing the gap between jobs desired by young people and talents needed by companies and developing various job training programs are required to save young people from the current struggles.