SEOUL (AFP) – Out of work and out of pocket, South Korean retirees are struggling to force their way back into an unwelcoming job market in an effort to supplement meagre or non-existent pensions.
But President Park Geun-Hye’s vision of a new “creative economy” seems to have little space for a generation that grew up with shipyards and steel mills rather than smartphones and start-ups.
Kim Min-Su, 69, receives a monthly pension of 590,000 ($562) – the sole source of income for him and his wife who live in a mini-apartment in Seoul.
“I wasn’t able to put much aside when I was working because nearly all of it went on raising and schooling my four kids,” Kim said after a morning spent scanning job vacancy notices at a Career Transition Centre for the elderly.
Kim, who used to earn more than 4.0 million won a month as a head engineer at a manufacturing plant in Incheon, estimates he needs a minimum 2.0 million won a month for living expenses.
Recently, he was introduced to a small company which offered to take him on full-time for 1.2 million won.
“They basically said: ‘You’re old. Take it or leave it’,” he said.
Kim is better off than many, in that he has a little pension and help from his children.
South Korea only introduced a national pension system in 1988 and only around one-third of people aged 65 or older actually receive one.
Many more joined the pension scheme at the tail end of their careers and receive very small sums.
Close to 50 per cent of Koreans over the age of 65 now live in “relative poverty” – meaning their monthly income is less than 50 per cent that of the average household income, according to the state data agency, Statistics Korea.
President Park Geun-Hye had promised to give every senior citizen over 65 a 200,000 won monthly stipend, but reneged on the commitment last year saying the economic situation would not allow it.
Retirement can come early in South Korea, with many companies pushing staff out in their early- or mid-50s.
Most of those have no option but to look for work elsewhere, and the average effective age at which South Korean men actually leave the workforce is 71.1 years – the second highest in the OECD behind Mexico.