The country's youth unemployment rate marked 9.2 percent last year, the highest ever; and job market conditions are expected to worsen due to companies' reluctance to recruit new workers amid an economic slowdown.
According to Statistics Korea, Wednesday, the unemployment rate of those aged between 15 and 29 stood at 9.2 percent last year, up 0.2 percentage points from the previous year. This is the highest figure since 1999 when the statistics office adopted new criteria for compilation of unemployment data.
The unemployment rate for the young has been rising each year, from 7.5 percent in 2012 to 8 percent in 2013 and 9 percent in 2014.
Even those who find jobs may be far from enjoying stability. Data from the statistics office shows that one out of five young people's first job was work as a contract worker with a term of less than one year. The ratio nearly doubled since 2008 when it stood at 11.5 percent.
Analysts show concern, since how young people start their careers really matters, especially in Korea where it is very difficult to switch to a better job. Young people starting as low-paid irregular workers are likely to remain so. "The low employment rate is a problem in itself, but how one is employed in the beginning also has considerable impact throughout their later life, such as job security and how much they will be paid," said Kim Hyung-joo, an economist at LG Economic Research Institute.
"It also affects one's determination to marry or give birth," he added, explaining that the poor job conditions may be linked with the country's low birthrate.
The "actual" unemployment rate could be even higher than the statistics. For instance, those who are economically inactive but have the willingness to find a job and part-time workers who would like to switch to stable jobs aren't included in the unemployment data. When including these people, the unemployment rate could soar to 20 percent.
The outlook for the job market this year isn't bright either. The slowdown of emerging economies including China, on which Korea relies for its exports, and sluggish consumption weighed on by household debt are hampering businesses from hiring more people. Major companies have been cutting their workforce, with the financial sector shedding 48,000 jobs last year.
The number of the employed totaled 25.9 million last year, up 337,000 from the previous year ― the smallest rise since 2010.