(ATTN: UPDATES with additional remarks from President Moon regarding reunion of separated families in last 7 paras)
SEOUL, Aug. 20 (Yonhap) -- President Moon Jae-in called for all-out efforts to create jobs Monday, while appearing to reject calls to amend his key economic policies, which were prompted by the worst employment conditions in more than eight years.
"I feel very burdened to see that employment conditions are worsening instead of improving," the president said while meeting with his top aides at the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae.
Moon's remarks came three days after Statistics Korea announced that the unemployment rate came to 3.7 percent in July, up 0.3 percentage point from the same month last year.
A more serious problem came from the fact that only 5,000 jobs were added to the local market over the same period. The figure marked a steep plunge from 106,000 jobs added from a year earlier in the previous month. It also marked the lowest increase since January 2010.
Such outcomes amount to a clear disappointment for Moon's key policy of income-led growth, which seeks to boost the local economy by creating jobs and increasing people's incomes, which in turn will lead to increased spending.
To this end, the government-led commission on the minimum wage increased it by 16.4 percent this year to 7,530 won (US$6.71) per hour. The minimum wage is set to jump again, this time by 10.9 percent next year to 8,350 won per hour.
Still, the president insisted it may be too early to call his economic policy a failure, only positing that government efforts may have not been sufficient.
"The government has been managing its spending and economic policy to remove the employment crisis and increase quality jobs, but the outcome leaves (us) no choice but to admit that they may have not been enough," the president told the weekly meeting, according to Cheong Wa Dae pool reports.
"According to the employment conditions released every month, there are areas where the government policy is having its intended effect and areas that it is not or appears to be insufficient. The government will have to come up with additional and stronger measures for different areas and different age groups," he added.
The president said the government will use more taxpayers' money to further support job creation efforts.
Moon earlier pledged to create more than 800,000 new jobs in the public sector alone before his single five-year term ends in 2022.
He urged government officials to do all they can to keep his election pledge.
"What we must fear most in implementing a policy is not an obstacle we may face but the possibility of losing the people's faith. I ask that both Cheong Wa Dae and the economic team of the government work as a perfect team to win the people's confidence that the government is doing its utmost to overcome the difficult employment conditions and that we are doing so with a determination that we may lose our jobs should we fail," the president said.
Turning to inter-Korean issues, President Moon called for efforts to hold regular exchanges of families separated in the two Koreas by the 1950-53 Korean War.
"The South and the North must try harder to more boldly resolve the issue of separated families. They must take steps to expand reunions, not only regular family reunion events but also video conferencing-based reunions, around-the-clock reunions, letter exchanges and visits to hometowns," the president said.
The call came as a group of 89 South Koreans embarked on a rare trip to the North's Mount Kumkang earlier in the day for reunions with their North Korean families in the first cross-border family reunion event in nearly three years since October 2015.
The resumption of family reunions follows Moon's historic summits with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, held on April 27 and May 26. The two leaders are again set to meet next month in Pyongyang.
"We really do not have time now," the president said, noting 56,000 South Koreans were still waiting to be reunited with their family members in the communist North for the first time since the end of the Korean War.
"Over the past five years, an average 3,600 (separated families) have passed away each year, with some 3,000 passing away in the first half of this year alone," he said.
"Their waiting must no longer be prolonged. Expanding and speeding up family reunions is the most urgent issue among all humanitarian projects that the South and the North must undertake together."
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