Silver job fairs, established to find jobs for people 60 and older, have mushroomed across South Korea in the past year as part of a government effort to assist a rapidly growing population of older Koreans adrift in a changing society.
The latest fair at the huge COEX centre, offered 2,000 private sector and 4,700 public sector jobs for retirees.
According to this article in The New York Times, until recently, the notion of older people having to look for jobs did not cross the minds of most South Koreans. The traditions of Confucianism hold that adult children should take primary responsibility for the care of their aging parents, who would enjoy respect and high status as sovereigns of the household.
But this practice is crumbling under the weight of longer life spans and changes in family structure, and many Koreans are entering the later stages of their lives unprepared. A government survey released in July found that fewer than 27 percent of Koreans 60 and older had made any provision for their post-retirement years beyond investing in their children’s education.
Now, many of these older Koreans are dismayed to find themselves dependent on their children, often in cramped urban settings,2 with very different priorities. These days, if adult children are willing to take in elderly parents, they often make it clear that they expect those parents to do household chores and look after the grandchildren, prospects that can make the parents think twice about moving in.
According to the National Statistics Office, 48.3 percent of South Koreans 65 and older were living with their children in 2007, compared with 72.4 percent in 1990.
The government is scrambling now to fill the gap in support, and older job seekers are responding. This year employers have received an average of three applications for every job offered at the fairs, compared with 1.5 applications in previous years.
A government pension system, financed in part by employee contributions, was introduced in 1988 for retirees over 60. But only 28 percent of the working population is covered. Many Koreans of that age, particularly those who worked as farmers, never held jobs that qualified for such pensions. For those who did, many are not receiving the monthly allowance, which averages less than $193, because they chose to take their pension in a lump sum at retirement.
In 2004, the government ordered the National Pension Service to try to find jobs for older workers. By 2006, the project was made permanent, overseen by a new independent body called the Korea Labor Force Development Institute for the Aged. Job placements rose from about 30,000 in 2004 to more than 83,000 in 2006 and 196,000 in the first half of this year.
At the Seoul silver jobs fair, desperation was in the air as 30,000 or so people crowded the booths exploring openings for work most had never expected they would need.