Koreans sink in job market quicksand

Wed Apr 8, 2009 10:44am EDT
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By Seo Eun-kyung and Kim Junghyun

SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea's newest batch of university graduates lives in fear of being trapped at the bottom of the pay scale in a group of workers dubbed "The 880,000 Won Generation."

The figure, equal to about $650, represents about what a temporary staff or contract worker makes a month in net pay and is also a sign of the crushed dreams of the country's youth who bet an elite education would lead to a rewarding career.

The current global crisis may cause South Korea to create its first generation of chronically underemployed and unemployed among the highly educated since the country emerged as a global economic power over the past few decades, experts said.

"Years ago, a diploma from a good university was a blank cheque for career success in Korea but now it's merely a certificate of unemployment," said Cho, a university senior who asked only to be identified by her family name.

There are few places where youth invest as much time and parents spend as large of a percentage of their income on education as South Korea, where cram schools are required to shut down by around midnight so that students can have some sleep after studying for about 12 to 14 hours a day.

The goal has been entry to an elite university, which usually means a high-paying job, being considered a more desirable candidate for marriage and a level of prestige in the highly competitive society.

Cho, a social science major at Ewha Woman's University, is considering one-year leave of absence to delay entry into the job market where she will study for professional certificates in the fields of trade, logistics and business distribution.

For many like Cho, the answer to the tough job market is even more education but experts are wondering if the current job crunch may be more than temporary and could signal an unraveling of social structures.   Continued...

<p>Kim Sang-heon, 29, who graduated from Hankuk University of Foreign Studies in 2009, studies at the university library in Seoul March 20, 2009. REUTERS/Jo Yong-Hak</p>