By Yoon Ja-young
The country's unemployment rate has reached 5 percent for the first time in more than seven years as a prolonged economic slowdown and corporate restructuring have worsened the job market.
Analysts expect negative factors such as sluggish domestic consumption and corporate restructuring coupled with external uncertainties will further weigh down on the job market.
According to Statistics Korea, Wednesday, the number of employed people marked 25.79 million in February, up 371,000 from a year ago. While jobs in construction, healthcare and social welfare increased, manufacturing shed 88,000 jobs. Jobs in manufacturing have decreased for eight months in a row amid corporate restructuring.
The number of jobless people stood at 1.35 million in February, which is the highest for that month since 1999 when the statistics office started compiling data.
The unemployment rate marked 5 percent, up 0.1 of a percentage point from a year ago and the highest since 2010 January when the rate also stood at 5 percent. Job market conditions continued to worsen during the former President Park Geun-hye administration. Her impeachment for a corruption scandal was upheld last week.
The jobless rate has soared to 5 percent from the 4 percent marked in February 2013, when Park was inaugurated as head of state. The youth unemployment rate also soared to 12.3 percent from 9.1 percent during the same period.
The rate is 0.2 percentage points lower than a year ago, but is still the second highest ever since 1999.
"The unemployment rate tends to rise in February as this is when students graduate," said Bin Hyun-joon, an official in charge of employment statistics at Statistics Korea. Students are not included in the unemployment data as they are economically inactive, but once they start seeking jobs they are counted as unemployed.
"Both the number of employed people and the unemployment rate soared as more people participate in economic activities," he added.
Due to the negative job market, many people are left with no other option than to start their own business. The number of self-employed people increased 213,000, continuing to rise for seven months in a row.
Amid an economic slowdown, more senior citizens and housewives also started seeking jobs, which led to the higher unemployment rate. The number of jobless females was 605,000, up 29,000 from a year ago. Jobless males, meanwhile, increased 4,000 during the same period. The number of the unemployed among those aged 60 or older also recorded 273,000, up 54,000 from a year ago.