Kim Ji-yeong has never had a permanent job. After graduating from college in Busan in 2003, she took a contract job as a secretary for a steel company in Pohang, North Gyeongsang Province.
But she was laid off a few years later due to a revision in the Labor Law. The law enforced a company to upgrade a contract worker’s job status to permanent if he or she had worked at the workplace for more than two years. Her employer decided to lay off her as the two-year deadline was approaching instead of giving her a permanent job.
Since then, she has studied English in Canada and the United States while working temporary and illegal jobs. Kim came back to Korea one month ago, but is without permanent employment.
Kim’s story is nothing new among young jobseekers, but the government seems to have no interest in them. Instead, the finance and labor ministries are busy praising themselves for improving employment data.
The government was proud as a peacock for some 419,000 newly-created jobs in March but experts pointed out that the number misleads people because the types of jobs are not as good as the quantity.
Korea's unemployment rate decelerated last month thanks mainly to a rise in jobs in the service sector, according to a joint report released by the Ministry of Strategy and Finance and the Ministry of Employment and Labor. The jobless rate stood at 3.7 percent in March, down from 4.2 percent in February, according to the report.
But, 564,000 positions were created in the service industry, which is typically based on a big portion of temporary jobs.
"There was an increase in jobs created in the service sector centered on healthcare, welfare workers and engineers that contributed to the overall improvements in the jobless rate," the government said in the report.
But manufacturers, which have produced relatively secure jobs, saw their number of employees drop to 104,000 during the same period.
A breakdown of the new jobs by age illustrates further that most of the new positions are not secure. The 453,000 new jobs were created for employees aged 50 or older, who usually seek part-time work after retirement. However, jobs for employees in their 30s, who are eager to find permanent employment decreased to 95,000 at the time.
The government-supported temporary jobs also contributed to creating new positions. A total of 46,000 new jobs came from the project, which provides low-quality part-time work, such as street cleaning and taking care of public parks, to senior citizens.
An increased number of self-employed people also confirms the reality of the new employment is merely the number of people who were forced to open their own business as they failed to find work. Some 125,000 people started their own businesses last month but most of them make less than the minimum amount for taxable income.
The finance ministry admitted that creating jobs may lose steam this month.
"Job market conditions have generally improved, but gains may decrease down the road," it said.
A total of 24.26 million people are employed in the country, the report showed. The employment rate edged up 0.3 percentage point to 58.6 percent, although the number of positions created fell from the 469,000 tallied a year earlier. The number was also down from 447,000 jobs created in February.
Reflecting improvements, the seasonally adjusted employment rate dipped to 3.4 percent from the previous month's 3.7, while the unemployment rate among young people between 15 and 29 stood at 8.3 percent, a drop of 1.2 percentage points from a year earlier.
The economically active population came to 25.21 million, up 1.2 percent from the same month a year earlier, according to the report.
The latest data comes as Asia's fourth-largest economy is steadily making a comeback from sluggish growth posted in 2011 that was triggered by the eurozone fiscal debt crisis and soaring commodities prices. Korea's economy expanded 3.6 percent last year, down sharply from 6.2 percent growth reported for 2010.
Korea posted a trade surplus of $2.33 billion in March, buoyed by a steady rise in overseas demand for locally made cars and refined petroleum products. It was an increase from a $1.52 billion surplus tallied the previous month.
Exports that play a key role in economic growth totaled $47.36 billion last month with imports reaching $45.03 billion. Industrial output was up a sharp 14.4 percent in February in relation to the year before.