The Korea Times

Moon Jae-in to brace for aging society

- By You Soo-sun

South Korea is aging fast, with the elderly expected to account for more than 40 percent of the population by 2060 according to Statistics Korea. Moon Jae-in, the newly elected president, has promised to tackle this trend by increasing the birthrate and securing a better livelihood for the elderly.

The dire situation facing Korea’s elderly has been well reported by the media — images of them collecting cardboard and paper on the streets, for example, received global attention. Statistics still back this image, with almost half of the elderly living in poverty.

A remedy proposed by all presidenti­al candidates in the election could be increases in the basic pension. Moon’s pledge was one of the most progressiv­e — he proposed that the elderly in the bottom 70 percent of the income ladder will receive a monthly allowance of 300,000 won ($265).

To stimulate marriage and birth, which has long been declining, he promised to create a work environmen­t more conducive to parenting and better infrastruc­ture for childcare. His policies include increasing paid parental leave benefits from 40 percent to 80 percent of income, providing a monthly childcare allowance of 100,000 won for every child under five, and expanding public kindergart­ens and preschools.

Many still raise concerns as to whether Moon will live up to his promises. His budget proposal has drawn constant criticism for failing to lay out adequate funds and ways to collect them.

Professor Yang Jae-jin, who teaches welfare policies at the Yonsei University Department of Public Administra­tion, sees the basic pension as cru- cial for the elderly. He had a slightly different view on how to distribute the funds, however. “I would increase the pension for those in the bottom 50 percent of the income ladder rather than 70 percent,” he said.

Over parental leave, he argued that the cap on the benefits should be further increased. “Just increasing the income substituti­on ratio of pregnancy leave to 80 percent will not prove effective.

The 2 million won cap for fathers, for example, will impede most fathers from actually receiving 80 percent of their income.”

He also suggested implementi­ng a separate insurance system for parental leave, currently covered under the Employment Insurance System.

“The current system is unpopular because it takes funds away from unemployme­nt insurance. The new administra­tion should consider dif- ferent ways to pay for parental leave, such as bringing in a separate insurance system as in Sweden.”

Professor Kim Yeon-myung of Chung-Ang University, who reportedly participat­ed in drafting Moon’s welfare policies, highlighte­d other aspects of the proposal.

“The emphasis of the draft was on improving infrastruc­ture for children and the elderly. This includes increasing the number of public preschools and childcare centers as well as public hospital services for the elderly.”

Moon’s pledges included creating more jobs for the elderly; subsidizin­g treatment costs for Alzheimer’s disease and public caregiver services; and expanding public housing for the elderly.

“Such plans received less media attention, but they are more critical in addressing the issues at hand,” Kim said.

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