South Korea's birthrate is one of the lowest in the world, ranking 219th out of 224 countries and standing at 1.26 per woman, according to the World Factbook of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. This means the country will soon suffer a serious labor shortage.
The Korea Labor Institute (KLI) warned Tuesday the nation will enter a worrisome era of labor shortages in the early 2020s due to the ever-dropping birthrate, forecasting the number of newly employed next year to increase by 296,000 from this year, less than the average of 300,000 per year.
The number is expected to fall below 100,000 not before long in a worse scenario, if the trend goes on and the government fails to work out radical measures to help raise the falling rate, the state-run institute said.
The labor shortage is quite a natural result of the so-called baby boomers' (born between 1955 and 1963) ebbing out of the labor market and the decreasing young labor force, caused by the low birthrate.
The share of young workers in the nation's labor force already fell to a record low, while that of older ones showed a remarkable rise in October, according to data from Statistics Korea. The labor shortage signals, with no doubt, a serious shrinkage of the economy.
The notable growth of the nation's economy over the decades owed much to the abundant supply of good quality labor and low costs. The workforce shortage, irrespective of its quality, is a crisis the nation should deal with at any cost.
Needless to say, the fundamental measure is to raise the birthrate, but this is not that easy under the current social atmosphere against having two or more children. An immediate realistic alternative is to change the paradigm of the market to cope with the shortage.
First of all, the government and industry should make every effort to create jobs for elderly citizens and women in such a way as to offer part-time workers a permanent position like full-time workers. It is time for all parties concerned to address this serious problem.