Suicide or work, the dilemma of the poor elderly in South Korea

In Seoul, South Korea, the mountainous express box was pushed tremblingly into the elevator of an apartment by an old white-haired man. When the elevator went up, he kept squinting his eyes to check the small address label on the courier box because of presbyopia.

Park Jae-young (transliteration) is 71 years old this year. According to South Korean law, he should have retired for 11 years and is still working. Sorting, delivery, signing…More than one hundred express items need to be processed in one day.

Most of Park Jae-yew’s colleagues are similar to his age, the oldest being 78 years old. They work so hard, not to make use of the residual heat, but to live.

“Money is the biggest reason I continue to work.” Park Jae Yao said.

Developed countries are all facing serious aging problems, South Korea may not be serious, but the quality of life of the elderly may be the worst.

According to the latest data released by the Korean Statistics Department, there are 7.38 million elderly people over 65 in this country, accounting for 14.3% of the total population, which is much lower than Japan’s 25.9%. However, half of the population over 65 in South Korea is in poverty, and among the 70 to 74 years old, 33.1% of South Koreans need to work-the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) composed of 35 countries including the United States and the United Kingdom. The average level is only 15.2%.

“I may work till 80 years old”
According to official data released by the South Korean government in March, about 4.2 million South Koreans over the age of 60 were employed or looking for work in 2017, which is at least 200,000 more than the number of people in their 20s. At the “Silver Hair Job Fair” in Seoul at the beginning of this year, more than 30,000 gray-haired seniors competed for 6,000 jobs, and most of them belonged to the “low-end industry”, including courier, security, cleaner, fueler and other positions.

The South Korean statistics department explained that this is because the elderly in South Korea did not have enough pensions to support themselves, so going out to work has become a way of earning a living. When the Asian financial crisis occurred in 1997, about 2 million South Koreans were unemployed. When the economy recovered, the unemployed were replaced by younger and cheaper workers.

To make matters worse, the Korean National Pension System only started in 1988, and the penetration rate is not optimistic. In 2017, there were 9.44 million elderly people over 61 years old in South Korea, and less than 40% of them received pensions-not only need to pay for more than 10 years, but also need to prove that they have no children to take care of.

Even if they can get it, the average monthly pension of 325,000 won (approximately 2,000 yuan) is very meager, less than one-third of the minimum living standard.

Huang Nanhui, a researcher at the Korea Institute of Health and Social Affairs, said, “Many people in their 70s and 80s have missed the opportunity to pay pension insurance and therefore cannot enjoy pension benefits. They have to solve the pension by themselves. The question is very absurd.”

“Our generation is too busy to prepare for the years after retirement.” Park Jae-young said that he once opened an air-conditioning repair company, but went bankrupt in 2012 due to poor management. Two years later, he started as a delivery company The employee works three days a week and has a monthly income of about US$500 (about 3400 yuan).

Park Jae-young, who has worked for more than 50 years in his life, said that if his physical condition permits, he may work until he is 80 years old.

The child wants to support but can’t afford it
Park Jaiyao has three children, but he does not want them to be responsible for his old-age care. “The children have to buy a house in Seoul, and life is also very stressful. I don’t want to burden the children.”

Similar to Park Jae Yoo, more and more Korean parents actively or passively “choose” to rely on themselves. The 75-year-old Kim Jin-nam is such a widowed old man. His wife died last year. The son works in a media company in Seoul, and faced with housing loans and children’s education, he is under great financial pressure and has no spare capacity to support his father. So Kim Jin Nam, who was once a middle school teacher, has to rely on scavenging waste to maintain a basic life.

As South Korea, which is deeply influenced by Confucian culture, the concept of raising children and protecting against old age has also been deeply rooted in the hearts of the people. So far, there are still some villages and small towns awarding adult children who care for the elderly. The prizes vary from television to cash.

“In the past, the family was an extended self.” said Park Ji-young, a professor of social welfare at Shangzhi University in Wonju, South Korea. “Children originally represented the future of their parents, providing them with medical services, financial support, and their twilight years. Live comfortably. The success of your children is their success.”

But the reality is different. Although South Korea has entered the ranks of developed countries, in recent years, economic growth has slowed down, and the gap between the rich and the poor has rapidly widened.

With higher prices and fewer employment opportunities, it is not easy for young people to take care of themselves under the frenzied competition.

So “raising children to guard against the old” has become the first tradition to be sacrificed. In the past 15 years, the percentage of children who think they should support their parents has plummeted from 90% to 37%. The old people have no choice but to find that although they have invested their life savings in the education of their children, the children have been emptied by the education of their houses, cars, and grandchildren, and they no longer have time to take care of themselves.

“The family system in our society is disintegrating too quickly, and it is no longer possible to ask children to support their elderly parents.” The author Shen Jingshu wrote in the best-selling book “Please take care of your mother”.

“I don’t need dignity, I just think about three meals a day”
The 71-year-old Kim Eunja sits on the steps of Seoul’s Jongno 3rd Street subway station, scanning the passengers who come and go. Bright lip gloss and red coat set off his weather-beaten face like white paper. She put a big bag on the concrete floor next to her, and the clinking of glass bottles came out of the bag. She is a member of South Korea’s “Bacchus”-elderly women in their 50s, 60s and even 70s. She makes a living by selling Bacchus, a functional drink to men.

But some of them, at the age when they should be respected, are also “selling” themselves because of poverty: prostitution.

“We have been educated since we were young, and dignity and honor are more important than anything else.” While South Korean scholar Professor Li Haoshan (transliteration) was doing fieldwork, a “Bacchus wine girl” said to her, “I’m hungry, I don’t need it. Dignity, no honor, just three meals a day.”

But more people are unwilling to abandon their dignity. When they are unable to work or do not want to be a burden for their children, suicide has become the choice of poor elderly people in South Korea.

Among all OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries, South Korea has the highest suicide rate among elderly people, so much so that it is called “shame” by The Economist.

Even more shocking is that the suicide rate among the elderly is still rising: in 2000, the number of people 65 years of age and above killed by suicide in South Korea was 1,161. In 2010, it reached 4,378. In 2017, the number had increased to 7,391.

In other words, in the past year, on average, nearly 20 elderly people in South Korea committed suicide every day.

Pension has become a key issue in the 2017 South Korean presidential election. President Moon Jae-in promised in his campaign platform to increase the basic pension for the poorest people from 200,000 won (approximately 1,200 yuan) per month to 300,000 won (approximately 1,800 yuan) per month by 2021. The number of job vacancies for older workers doubled to 800,000.

In addition, the government also plans to subsidize the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, provide more subsidies for nursing staff, and increase housing supply for the elderly. However, whether Moon Jae-in’s reforms can truly change the pension plight of the elderly in South Korea still needs time to test.

After all, even the South Korean government’s own expectations say that it is expected that by 2060, about 90% of the elderly in South Korea will be able to universalize pension benefits. What makes it more difficult to achieve this goal is that South Korea’s birth rate is falling to a new low. Thousands of people have only 7 newborns.