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Can I Work, too?

  The phrase ‘post-aged society’ is no longer a story of other nations. Our country’s elderly population has also increased rapidly due to a decreased birthrate and evolved medical techniques. As the elderly make up an increasingly larger proportion of the population it is necessary to carefully consider what roles society can offer to these people; for example, appropriate employment may be desired by some. It is essential to analyse our current situation in order to conclude whether such employment opportunities for the elderly exist and how our welfare provisions for the elderly compare to those of other countries.  

What is aging society?

  According to UN standards, an ‘aging society’ is one in which the percentage of people over 65 years old is 7% or more of the total population, an ‘aged society’ where the percentage of people over 65 years old is 14% or more of the total population, and a ‘post-aged society’ where the percentage of people over 65 old is 20% or more of the total population. In December 2016, it was calculated that 13.5% of Korea’s population is over the age of 65. If Korea’s elderly population continues to grow as it is at present, it is predicted that there will be 15.7% of the population over the age of 65 by 2020 and 24.3% by 2030. As of January 2017, Korea’s elderly population increased by 3.26% and took the total to around 7 million people, while the those under the age of 15 decreased by 2.06% and brought that total to less than 7 million. It was the first time in Korea that the number of people aged over 65 exceeded those under the age of 15.

Korea’s aging phenomenon

  The median age is when we list the total population by age and then select the person in the very middle. Korea’s median age in 2017 is now 42, meaning there has been an increase of 3.8 years since 2010’s median of 38.2. It is lower than Japan (46.5), Germany (46.5) and the United Kingdom (43.3), but higher than France (41.1), the United States (41.1), China (36.8), and India (27.3). Moreover, it is worth noting that an increasing number of Korean provinces and localities are becoming post–aged. In 2005, of 228 local governments (si, gun, gu) 63 (27.6%) were recorded as having post-aged populations, but just 10 years later, in 2015, that number increased to 86 (37.7%). Jeollanam-do has already become a post–aged society with 21.2% of its local people over the age of 65, while Joellabuk-do, Gyeongsangbuk-do, Gangwon-do, and Chungcheongnam-do will soon become post–aged with 17.9%, 17.8%, 16.9%, and 16.3% respectively. In light of these statistics, Korea needs to realise that an increasingly aging population needs to be taken seriously and planned for accordingly.

  Korea’s current provisions for our aging society are still inadequate, despite the government’s efforts in the form of various policies. Firstly, current support services are not well maintained. It is necessary to have a policy to improve social support services, which have thus far only benefited a minority because of a lack of promotion. In addition, home support services such as the National Elderly Food Delivery Service reach only a limited number of intended targets. Thus, such support services for the elderly need to be reformed as soon as possible. Secondly, many people in Korea complain about the lack of nursing homes. While the number of nursing homes in Korea was 71873 in 2011 and increased to 75029 by 2015, more are required in specific localities. This is because the increase was made indiscriminately and on a national scale without properly identifying local demands and therefore which localities were in greater need of such facilities. There are 75 local governments (si, gun, gu) where the facility demand has dropped dramatically, even though there are 59 local governments which are unable to provide social facilities for the elderly. Thirdly, Korea’s retirement system is unsustainable. The average retirement age in Korean companies was 57.4 years in 2010, but the real average age, taking into account honorary retirement, is 53, which is 10 years earlier than in many European countries where the average age of retirement is 65. Fourthly, leisure activities and hobbies are ranked second (33.1%) after employment (37%) for what people want to do in their old age. Nevertheless, one of the main reasons that the elderly are unable to undertake leisure activities is the shortage of necessary facilities (26.6%). That means society needs to provide various spaces, facilities, and programmes that the elderly can enjoy in order to benefit their health and overall wellbeing. In addition, the elderly need to change their thinking regarding possibly returning to some form of employment, just as young people need to abandon the stereotype that elderly people are incapable of undertaking employment.

Creating suitable employment opportunities as ‘authentic welfare’ for the elderly.

 

  Simply providing subsidies is not true welfare for the elderly. The number of elderly who want to work or are capable of working is increasing, but they cannot work due to the imposed retirement age. Furthermore, there can sometimes be problems for workers who are close to the retirement age, including being unfairly assigned more menial tasks. The Korean government has been providing financial support to companies and organisations which actively assist the elderly in finding work. These companies are known as ‘aging friendly companies’ (고령화 친화 기업). There were 62 such companies in 2014, employing 721 senior citizens over the age of 60, with each company receiving a monthly payment of about 790,000 won. In 2016, one of these ‘aging friendly companies’, Na-Ju Seniors’ Club, received financial support of 300 million won from the government. Many people are expecting that such funding will help to create a higher number of more varied jobs for the elderly. Another good example of an ‘aging friendly company’ is the Senior Function Club (시니어 직능 클럽), which encourages retired employees to connect with their former workplace for re-employment and to participate in society more actively once again.

  In another business model which also specialises in employment for the elderly,  ‘1st to 3rd Generation Lecturer Dispatch Business’, elderly persons (‘1st generation’),  are dispatched to children’s (‘3rd generation’) educational institutions, such as kindergartens and schools,  to teach Korean etiquette, calligraphy, hanja, and traditional fairytales. Elderly persons who are ‘cultured’ and over the age of 65 can apply to this business for placements, and if they work two or three times a week they get paid a monthly salary. Many people have praised this business for acknowledging and utilising the wisdom and experiences of the elderly, while cultivating the personalities of children and increasing inter-generational communication.

  NoNo (老老) Care is another successful enterprise designed the help the elderly. The basic premise of the business is that a healthy elderly individual can visit and assist a less healthy and independent elderly person. Those over the age of 65 can apply, and if they work two or three times a week for 30 to 35 hours a month, they are paid 200,000 won. 61 communities used this business in 2014, which has created jobs for low–income elderly people while giving welfare services to those elderly people living alone or in need of assistance.

  Many elderly people says that they are satisfied with the kind of businesses just outlined. Mr Lee, who was re-employed at a hospital in Geosan at the age of 64 said, “I wanted to work but I had no place to work. I was helped by a support centre which helps the elderly to find job placements, and now I have a job! Nowadays, I feel like I’m living a new life and find that work itself has an energising effect on me.” Even the economic impact of the employment of the elderly is significant. Korea has an increasing number of senior citizens with excellent abilities and professional skills, which can be hugely beneficial to businesses. Many people incorrectly assume that the  productivity of elderly employees is low, but in fact their productivity is still relatively high at around 70 percent of that of employees in their 40s, despite the fact that those employees in their 60s might sometimes receive a salary which is 50 percent lower than their counterparts in their 40s.

What are other countries doing to help their elderly?

 

Providing appropriate support and opportunities for the elderly is also a serious problem in other countries.

  In the case of Japan, they have strong policies for employment of the elderly. Its aim is to secure employment until the age of 65, and then help re-employ those who are still willing and physically able to work. Many private businesses, private companies, cooperative associations, and NPOs are now participating in Japan’s policies for the elderly. The National Silver Worker Business Association, which was founded in Tokyo in 2004, is a prime example of how the Japanese try to assist their elderly citizens. It is a system that receive work opportunities from local governments, and then tries to allocate these jobs to the elderly and distribute gains to them. Membership is limited to those aged over 60. 58 affiliate associations are now running and approximately 87000 elderly have been helped with finding employment opportunities as a result. Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, the National Silver Worker Association generates an annual income of 33 billion yen.

  In the case of Germany, it is anticipated that the average age of the German workplace is going to be 50 and that many elderly German people will have lots of job opportunities. Germany is a well-established industrial country. Consequently, there are job opportunities for the elderly related to factory automation. This combination of factory automation with IT is called Industry 4.0 and has opened lots of possibilities for employment of the elderly, as the overseeing and controlling of computer software is not physically demanding but is nonetheless essential. For instance, the German automobile company BMW has increased its automated systems, changed lighting and introduced magnifiers to aid the vision of workers, and installed premium chairs to increase comfort and negate the effects of sitting for for extended periods of time. In addition, they ensure that there are more regular medical checkups for elderly workers.

 Korea is rapidly becoming a post–aged society. We must make a variety of institutional arrangements based on the diverse policies and systems of the advanced countries that have already proven to be successfully managing their aging societies. In addition, greater awareness and changes in thinking regarding our rapidly aging society are required among both younger people and the elderly. Everyone will need to be fully prepared in order to make our soon-to-be post-aged society flourish, and so providing a basis for the elderly to contribute to society via appropriate employment or other means is an essential undertaking.

박현지  lilylondon97@gmail.com

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