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[News Focus] Unemployment amid COVID-19 shows gender contrast in Korea

Jobless men up 7.8%, women down 5.5% during Feb. 1-April 30

People wait in line at a regional office of the Employment and Welfare Plus Center in Korea to apply for unemployment benefits earlier this year. (Yonhap)
People wait in line at a regional office of the Employment and Welfare Plus Center in Korea to apply for unemployment benefits earlier this year. (Yonhap)

SEJONG -- South Korea saw its number of unemployed people climb 19,000 during the Feb. 1-April 30 period as the impact of the novel coronavirus hit.

The figure is the headline unemployment statistic publicized by the government.

According to Statistics Korea, the tally for the jobless came to 1.172 million in April, compared to 1.153 million in January, when the first case of COVID-19 was reported in the nation.

But the data showed a sex disparity, in which the number of unemployed men increased while the figure for women declined over the three-month period.

The number of men who were unemployed tallied 675,000 in April, up 7.8 percent (49,000) from 626,000 in January. In contrast, the number of unemployed women fell by 5.5 percent (29,000) from 526,000 to 497,000.

For men, unemployment has risen throughout the first four months of the year -- from 626,000 in January.
 
(Graphic by Han Chang-duck/The Korea Herald)
(Graphic by Han Chang-duck/The Korea Herald)

As a result, the jobless rate for men rose by 0.3 percentage point to 4.2 percent over the period, while the figure for women declined from 4.4 percent to 4.2 percent. The collective figure for both men and women rose 0.1 percentage point.

These figures indicate that the epidemic dealt a more serious blow to male salaried workers and self-employed men, though the numbers could differ by job sector.

The employment data for May and June could back up the relevant trend more accurately.

The situation is far more critical when it comes to the extended definition of unemployment, which takes “underemployed” people as the de facto unemployed.

According to the Supplementary Index III for Employment from Statistics Korea, the “extended-based” jobless rate reached 14.9 percent in April, the highest since the agency started compiling the data in January 2015.

This indicates that 4.42 million of the economically active population, 29.68 million, were de facto unemployed -- about 15 percent.

The corresponding figure for January was 12.1 percent.

This means that de facto unemployment increased by more than 830,000 during the Feb. 1-April 30 period, which contrasts with the headline figure of 19,000.

The Supplementary Index III for Employment, a relatively new method for calculation by the government, regards underemployed people -- people who work less than 36 hours a week and want to work more hours, as well as seasonal workers who are out of work for part of the year -- as unemployed.

The unemployment data is worse for younger people.

The extended-based jobless rate among those aged 15-29 on the Supplementary Index III for Employment came to 26.6 percent, or 1.26 million, as of last month.

This is up 210,000 from January, when the rate was 21.4 percent.

In contrast, the government’s official figure suggested a youth jobless rate of 9.3 percent for April.

This number increased only 44,000 during the three-month period.

Meanwhile, the jobless tally for men and women, separately, on the Index III has not been made public.

By Kim Yon-se (kys@heraldcorp.com)
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