South Korea’s jobless rate hit an 11-month high in February, due mainly to a bump in the number of job seekers as new graduates entered the market, but overall conditions indicate Asia’s fourth-largest economy remains resilient.
The government said it expects private-sector hiring to pick up alongside recent growth in new businesses, and will take steps of its own by launching a new jobs programme in March.
The jobs data are not expected to hurt optimism over the local economy, given January’s strong factory-production reading and February’s export recovery and reduced inflation.
Statistics Korea said Wednesday the country’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in February was 3.7 percent, up from 3.2 percent in January and the highest since the 4 percent of last March. Without the seasonal adjustment, the rate was 4.2 percent in February, up from 3.5 percent in January.
“The jobless rate tends to be higher in February than in other months partly because new university graduates start looking for jobs during the month,” the data office said in a statement.
In February 2011, the seasonally adjusted jobless rate was 3.9 percent, while the unadjusted rate was 4.5 percent.
The number of employed in February was up by 447,000 from a year earlier, to 23.78 million, after a rise of 536,000 for January. Of all Koreans aged 15 or older, 57.5 percent were employed in February, up from 57.4 percent in January.
The Ministry of Strategy and Finance said in a statement after the data were released that overall, job-market conditions remain quite favourable despite the economic uncertainties.
“The growth in the number of people employed in the service sector continued, while employment in the construction sector shows signs of recovery,” the ministry said. “The rise in the jobless rate is (due mainly to) temporary factors.”
Analysts said that while they generally agree with the government’s expectations of continued improvement in the job market, they are also concerned that global economic uncertainties could make private businesses hesitant to expand their workforces in the coming months, particularly by taking on more full-time workers.
Joblessness among young people is a key concern for the government. Local studies have shown that eight of 10 high-school students go on to university here, and competition among university graduates for jobs at big conglomerates like Samsung Group or state-run firms is high, leaving smaller firms struggling to find employees.
Addressing this structural imbalance is likely to be a focus of any new jobs programmes. -By KANGA KONG