Youth unemployment has reached crisis proportions, with more than one in five people between 15 and 29 out of work, according to a survey.
The survey by the Hyundai Research Institute showed that the real number of unemployed young people stood at 1.1 million in October last year, which translated into a rate of 22.1 percent. The number increased substantially from 990,000 in 2003, when the rate was 17.7 percent.
But government statistics put youth unemployment at a mere 7.7 percent in 2011 and showed the number of officially unemployed young people falling from 401,000 in 2003 to 324,000 in 2011 as the young population itself dwindled.
The reason for the discrepancy is that the government data do not include those who have given up looking for work altogether and those who keep returning to private training or studies to increase their chances. As a result, critics say government unemployment statistics no longer even remotely reflect reality.
The grim job market has caused even doctoral degree holders or graduates of famous overseas universities to rush to snap up any job including unpaid internships, driving up competition in small and medium-sized enterprises.
One executive with a medium-sized logistics company said, "We don't know whether to rejoice or worry because a large number of graduates of prestigious universities in Seoul are applying. This used to be unthinkable in this industry."
The problem is even more dismal for humanities majors or graduates of regional universities, many of whom have given up all efforts to find jobs.
According to the Hyundai Research Institute, there were 288,000 so-called "Freeters" -- people who make a living by teaching privately or handling two or three part-time jobs -- last year.
Choi Young-ki of the Gyeonggi Research Institute said, "The larger the number of young people who give up trying to find jobs, the smaller the productive population. This will have bad effects on the country's economy."