August 17, 2023 12:00
Many of Korea's rural towns are being hollowed out and some are at risk of disappearing altogether as their population shrinks dramatically.
Korea's population has declined for the last two years due to a persistently low birthrate, falling 0.1 percent to 51.69 million people last year, and Statistics Korea expects it to dwindle to 38 million by 2070 if nothing is done.
Until 2000, none of the 228 cities and towns in Korea were at serious risk, but now, 51.8 percent of them are being hollowed out as only the old remain and one-fifth are at high risk of vanishing.
In North Jeolla Province, 13 out of 14 towns with the exception of Jeonju are experiencing sharp population declines. The situation is not much better in Gangwon, North Gyeongsang, South Jeolla and South Chungcheong provinces.
Provincial universities are dying as they can no longer recruit enough students to keep them afloat. Out of 188 universities across the country, 36.2 percent were unable to recruit their projected quota of freshmen this year, and 86 percent of them were provincial universities. Next year, universities plan to admit 470,000 freshmen, but only 370,000 high-school seniors will graduate at the time.
The dwindling population also translates into labor shortages. Korea's total working-age population aged 15 to 65 will decline by 3.57 million by 2030. For rural areas, this means a vicious cycle of people leaving due to a lack of jobs and businesses closing down due to a lack of workers.
According to the Korea Employment Information Service, manufacturing workers account for 24.2 percent of total laborers in regions that are still robust, but the proportion falls to 17.5 percent in areas with population depletion and 9.4 percent in areas at high risk of disappearing altogether.
The average monthly salary in safe regions is W3.16 million but falls to W2.75 million in areas with population depletion and W2.49 million in areas at high risk (US$1=W1,337).
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