Between 70 and 90 percent of North Koreans make ends meet by buying and selling goods in the grey or black market now that the state rationing system has effectively been wiped out, according to a survey.
The survey was conducted by the Chosun Ilbo and Center for Cultural Unification Studies among 100 North Koreans living in the Chinese border areas of Dandong and Yanji from January until May.
Seventy said they have sold goods to make a living in the North.
Asked how pervasive the practice is, 37 of the respondents said more than 90 percent, while 21 said more than 80 percent and 15 said more than 70 percent.
"The state rationing system has collapsed except in Pyongyang and a few other areas, and it's difficult to survive on your wages alone, so most people make ends meet by selling goods," one North Korean said.
Another said, "A worker makes around W3,000 a month, but that's not enough to buy even a kilogram of rice, so you'd starve to death unless you sell goods at markets." He added, "You get scolded for not showing up for work, so people go to the office in the morning to check in and then head to the market."
The planned economy is in meltdown, and regulations in the North's state-run factories are regularly flouted, 86 of the respondents said.
"If you don't show up for work for six months they send you off to indoctrination, so you go to work but your mind is just somewhere else," one North Korean said. "Mostly people hand over some of their income from the markets to their bosses and live off the rest."
That is why mobile phone use is also spreading rapidly among North Koreans. One North Korean said, "It's not that people buy mobile phones because they have a lot of money but because they're necessary if you want to sell anything."