The number of students hired as part-timers had increased over the years but remained under 300 thousand from 2003 to 2009. However, it surpassed 400 thousand in 2010 for the first time on record. The numbers peaked last year hitting 439,000.
According to the statistics, the majority of the young jobseekers in 2011 consisted of university students in their 20s: 67 percent of the nearly 440,000 workers turned out to be students attending universities or college students who took a leave of absence. The proportion of university students within the age bracket of 15 to 29 has increased for the sixth consecutive year since 2005.
The surging numbers can be attributed to the rising tuition fees.
“Tuition has been rising faster in Korea, which may pressure students to finance their education, and are more willing to work, even on bad terms,” said professor Vladimir Hlasny (Economics).
Students are engaged in service sector work, such as working as waiters or waitresses for coffee shops, restaurants, convenience stores, and bars. Approximately 136,000 students were hired on an hourly basis in restaurants, 79,000 worked for retail shops, and 10, 000 gave private lessons to high school and middle school students.
“I work on weekends as a night-shift cashier. I had to get a part-time job for living costs,” said Rhee Jung-yoon (Sogang University, 2).
“However, I can’t deny the fact that the work is physically demanding and is putting pressure on my studies,” Rhee said.
Students say they end up in manual rather than intellectual work since they are readily available near universities, and employment is easy to come by.
“I worked at a convenience store receiving minimum wage of 4,580 won for eight months,” said Han Da-som (International Office Administration, 2). “I wanted to work as a tutor at first, but it was difficult to spot and competitive to get. Working as a cashier was the easiest and fastest way I could earn money.”
As a growing number of students commits themselves to low-paying manual jobs, some economists claim that due to high unemployment rate and the lack of secure economic infrastructure.
“Young people may be getting desperate. The unemployment rate among the under-20 and 20-to-25 age groups has been very high since mid 2008 and hasn’t been falling,” Hlasny said.
“Number of people unemployed for more than three months has also been relatively high, meaning that young people may have nothing to look forward to. Also Korea does not have a very strong safety net. Protection for the minorities is not generous meaning, people have a valid reason to blame the government for not doing enough for them.”
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