One in five employed Koreans were in their 60s last year for the first time in the country's history as baby boomers hit retirement age and the younger population shrinks.According to Statistics Korea, 20.9 percent of 28 million employed people were over 60 last year. Although they made up a smaller proportion than those in their 50s (23.6 percent) and 40s (22.5 percent), they outnumbered workers in their 30s (18.9 percent) and teens and 20s (14.2 percent).Their number has been growing faster each year, rising by 200,000 in 2016 and by 452,000 last year. But the proportion of workers in their 30s fell from 23.1 percent to 18.9 percent over the past decade, those in their 40s from 26.8 percent to 22.5 percent, in their teens and 20s from 14.8 percent to 14.2 percent and in their 50s from 22.5 percent to 23.6 percent.
Elderly workers are filling the void in the job market. In 2020, the coronavirus pandemic forced layoffs in all sectors, but the number of workers over 60 still increased by 375,000, increasing the employment rate among people between 60 to 64 to 60.4 percent and ranking Korea 13th out of 38 OECD members.There is also a pressing material need. According to Statistics Korea, the poverty rate among people over 65 stood at 37.1 percent as of 2021, compared to the OECD average of 14.1 percent. Some 8.1 percent of senior citizens made less than W1 million a month and only 28.2 percent made more than W2 million from income, pension payments and allowances from their children (US$1=W1,308).The problem is that jobs available for senior citizens are low-paying and unstable. The median income for a four-member household in Korea stood at W1.95 million a month last year. But 26.4 percent of employed senior citizens earn less than two-thirds that amount, and the vast majority or 86.3 percent of senior citizens who returned to the workforce in 2021 found only temporary jobs and 40 percent of them work in areas unrelated to their past experience.From 2018 to 2019, before the pandemic, the unemployment rate among senior citizens surpassed 10 percent, but that fell below six percent recently mainly due to an increase in low-paying temporary positions that were artificially created by the government and paid for out of the public purse.