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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Nov. 13)

All Headlines 07:08 November 13, 2017

Stuck in poverty
Time to expand job opportunities for elderly

A report shows that Korea's elderly poverty rate is the highest among members of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

The OECD report said 42.7 percent of the nation's population aged 66-72 were living in relative poverty. The situation was more serious among those aged 76 and above, with 60.2 percent struggling with poverty.

The figures are about four times higher that the OECD average for both age groups. Korea also has the highest rate of elderly suicide among OECD countries.

The survey reflects the harsh reality that many elderly Koreans face after retirement. The reason behind Korea's particularly high poverty rate among the elderly is that the social security system has not properly responded to the population shift.

As of August, about 14 percent of the nation's population were aged 65 and older. Although Korea is aging swiftly, it has a weak national pension system that was introduced only in 1988. The basic elderly pension adopted in 2014, which is about 200,000 won ($180) per month, is not enough for basic living costs and medical bills.

Another reason is that in the past, it was taken for granted that the children would take care of aging parents, but this is no longer the case because many young people are struggling to get by themselves amid the worsening job crisis and prolonged economic downturn.

The Moon Jae-in administration has pledged to raise the basic elderly pension to 250,000 won per month in 2018. The amount will be raised slightly every year until 2021 to achieve President Moon's pledge to raise the basic elderly pension to 300,000 won by the end of his term in office.

President Moon has paid keen attention to improving the quality of the lives of the elderly and expanding welfare policies for them. For example, the government announced more state care for dementia patients by creating new care centers and increasing insurance coverage in September.

But not been enough attention has been paid to how to keep the elderly working after retirement age while the government's job policy has primarily been designed around young adults. For those born in the 1950s and older, it was customary to stay at one job throughout their career, so many of these people struggle to find work after retirement.

The retirement age has been extended to 60, but it is not easy to stay at one job until people reach that age. Being able to work past retirement age is good for the elderly because they can support themselves. Being an active member of society is good for their health as well.

Spending more on the basic elderly pension is not a fundamental solution to assisting the elderly. One of the most effective ways to prepare for a super-aged society is to expand job opportunities and vocational training for older people. The government should pay more attention to this besides expanding pension benefits.

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