A few years ago, the average salaries of high-income professionals made national headlines. Patent attorneys were the top earners with W490 million (US$1=W1,165) a year, followed by other lawyers with W337 million, customs brokers with W324 million, public accountants at W224 million and tax accountants with W213 million. The salaries were based on data provided by the National Tax Service (NTS) in a National Assembly audit. The Korean Bar Association, Korean Medical Association, the Korea Patent Attorneys Association and other groups were quick to deny the figures, claiming they were "grossly exaggerated." Some groups even visited the offices of various news media to protest.
During this year's National Assembly audit, figures were presented showing that the average salary of patent attorneys was more than W600 million a year. The KPAA strongly protested, saying the figure was a mistake that tallied the entire earnings of a patent law firm employing many legal consultants and the average annual salary of patent attorneys was in fact W130 million.
A few days ago, the income rankings of various professions unveiled by the Korea Employment Information Service created a fresh storm of controversy. A survey of 75,000 wage earners showed that tax accountants, who earned W10.73 million a month on average, ranked highest out of 426 professions.
Immediately the Korean Association of Certified Public Tax Accountants (KACPTA) was up in arms, saying the findings are absurd since tax accountants consistently ranked lower than patent attorneys, doctors, lawyers, customs brokers and CPAs since 2006. KACPTA said the survey is seriously flawed because it excluded patent attorneys altogether due to the small number of people in that profession who took part in the questionnaire, and the data represent the wages of only 39 tax accountants, or 0.4 percent of the total number of tax accountants in Korea.
Wage statistics based on samplings of only a limited portion of a group can lead to exaggerated figures. Since 2000, 1,000 new lawyers have passed the bar exam each year, leading to a glut, and there have even been instances where lawyers got no cases for a month at a time. Some statistics show 22 percent of lawyers in Korea making W2 million a month, or less than W24 million a year. Over the past decade, the number of tax accountants has grown four times faster than the number of taxpayers, resulting in 36 percent of tax accountants in the country unable to open for business.
In the professional world, it is a source of some pride to be named as the highest-paid. Money made honestly and through hard work is something to be proud of. But an investigation by the NTS of 130 high-income self-employed professionals in May showed them failing to report W21.1 million out of every W51.6 million in income. The tax evasion rate was 40.9 percent. Statistics like that make one cringe to see high-income professionals try so hard to make their average salaries appear lower every time these wage rankings are unveiled.
By Chosun Ilbo columnist Lee June