February 14, 2020 13:46
President Moon Jae-in is busy visiting fresh markets and meeting with the heads of major conglomerates following the coronavirus outbreak. The president is doing his job by shaking hands with traders and business leaders to allay unwarranted fears and spur private consumption. But the publicity stunt reveals that his grasp of reality remains shaky at best. "There had been signs of the economy improving since late last year, but they were all thwarted by coronavirus," he told traders in Namdaemun Market, and in the meeting with business leaders he said essentially the same. One trader summed up every thinking person's response. "We were already in trouble due to the slump, and the coronavirus outbreak has only made it worse."
The government is patting itself on the back because of the latest employment figures, which on paper show an increase of 560,000 jobs in January. But all they really reveal is that they are a fig leaf, since the increase was mainly in temporary jobs for senior citizens at a huge cost to the taxpayer, while jobs for people in the prime of their working life actually dwindled. Temporary jobs for senior citizens are usually offered during the summer, but the government began offering large numbers of them early this year to bribe voters as April's general elections approach. The number of jobs for Koreans in their 40s plunged by 84,000, the 50th consecutive month of declines, and the number of people who have given up looking for work increased by 190,000 over the past year.
Corporate investments that would lead to genuine job growth have declined for two straight years, and exports have fallen for 14 months running. Private consumption edged up just 1.9 percent last year, and the coronavirus scare now threatens to drive 8 million self-employed people into bankruptcy. The market traders who met the president cried out for help, but they did not mean protection from the virus.
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