The nation added 299,000 jobs in July, the highest figure in 18 months, but the number of unemployed people remained high at 1.09 million, government data showed Wednesday.
According to a report released by Statistics Korea, the number of employed people stood at 27.38 million in July, up 299,000 from a year ago. It was the largest addition in 18 months since the country added 334,000 jobs in January 2018.
Job addition stagnated at 19,000 in January, but has since managed to remain stable at over 250,000 every month except April when the country added 17,000 jobs.
The nation's social welfare service led the growth last month by adding 146,000 jobs in the sector. The lodging and restaurant services sector also added 101,000 jobs.
In the meantime, 94,000 people lost manufacturing jobs, while the wholesale and retail sector lost 86,000 jobs. The manufacturing sector continued its downtrend for 16 consecutive months in July.
Despite the massive job additions in public and lodging service sectors, the nation's unemployment rate still remained high at 3.9 percent, up 0.2 percentage points from a year ago. It was the highest July unemployment rate figure in 19 years since July 2000.
By age, the number of newly employed workers in their 30s and 40s declined by 23,000 and 179,000, respectively, in July. Job addition for those in their 20s, 50s and 60s, in the meantime, stood at 28,000, 112,000 and 377,000 last month.
"The growth of the unemployment rate isn't a good sign for the nation's economy, but this also indicates an increasing number of people started looking for a job last month," a Statistics Korea official said.
"The nation's youth employment rate for those aged between 15 and 29 jumped 0.5 percentage points compared to a year ago, hinting more young people managed to land a job last month."
Experts, however, disagreed with the agency's optimism.
"The number seems to have improved, but economy doesn't reflect it," LG Economic Research Institute researcher Lee Geun-tae said.
"Consumption, demand and export are all underperforming now. It's hard to say employment is getting better."
Korean Economic Association analyst Kim Jung-shik also remained skeptical about the job market.
"The manufacturing sector did not add jobs due to the deteriorating economy," he said.
"This indicates job quality is worsening, but the government is replacing manufacturing jobs with public and service sector jobs."
The government said the nation's job market is entering a recovery phase but it will closely monitor the job additions for those in their 30s and 40s as well as manufacturing sector.
"There are still uncertainties in the nation's job market," said a government official. "The government will do its best to encourage investment and demand in the second half of the year."