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510,000 jobs disappeared in food-lodging, wholesale-retail since COVID-19

Korea ranks 26th of 33 OECD members in Q3 employment

A director general from Statistics Korea speaks at a news briefing on the 2021 employment at Government Complex Sejong, Wednesday. (Yonhap)
A director general from Statistics Korea speaks at a news briefing on the 2021 employment at Government Complex Sejong, Wednesday. (Yonhap)
SEJONG -- The number of employed people increased the most in seven years in 2021 on the back of the base effect after the coronavirus pandemic dealt a severe blow to the hiring market in 2020, state data showed Wednesday.

But the number of jobs in sectors such as wholesale-retail and food service-lodging continued to decline last year, following the previous year. About 516,000 jobs disappeared in these four sectors during the period of 2020-2021.

According to Statistics Korea, the number of employed increased by 369,000 to 27.27 million in 2021, compared to a year earlier. The growth figure marked the highest since the tally increased by 598,000 on-year in 2014.

In 2020, the number of employed people declined by 218,000. Hit by COVID-19, it was the highest negative growth in more than two decades since the 1997-98 Asian currency crisis. This brought about a base effect, in which the job market showed a rapid bounce-back in 2021.

The number of jobs increased in segments like health-social welfare by 198,000 in 2021, logistics by 103,000 and construction by 74,000.

In contrast, decline by 150,000 was reported in the wholesale-retail sector and by 47,000 in lodging and food service. While the collective fall in these sectors reached 197,000 in 2021, they had already suffered a collective decrease of 319,000 in 2020.

This indicates that more than 500,000 jobs have disappeared in just two years in the wholesale, retail, lodging and food service sectors.

On the same day, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Hong Nam-ki stressed the hiring market has entered recovery mode. He said the government would not spare any effort “in a bid to attain a full-fledged recovery in terms of (both) quantity and quality in employment.”

Meanwhile, South Korea was found to have still lagged behind major economies in terms of the employment rate.

According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Korea posted an employment rate of 66.9 percent, for those aged between 15-64, in the third quarter of 2021.

This placed the nation at No. 26 among 33 OECD members, as ranked by the French-based organization. Five -- Greece, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland and Turkey -- was not included in the analysis of the total 38 members.

Korea placed far behind its Asia-Pacific neighbors: New Zealand ranked third with 79.1 percent, followed by Japan (fourth) with 77.9 percent and Australia (ninth) with 74.8 percent.

Emerging economies whose figures outstripped Korea’s were the Czech Republic at 74.7 percent, Estonia at 74 percent, Hungary at 73.3 percent, Lithuania at 73.2 percent, Slovenia at 72.7 percent and Latvia at 70.8 percent.

Iceland topped the list with an 80.4 percent employment rate, followed by Switzerland with 79.6 percent. Countries in the top 10 included Germany, Sweden, Denmark and the UK.

By Kim Yon-se (