South Korea’s unemployment rate falls to lowest since 2013

The surprise increase in jobs could signal a 'bottoming out' of South Korea's economy, despite the threat of trade wars.

    The number of employed South Koreans in August 2019 rose by its biggest margin since March 2017 [File: Yonhap/EPA]
    The number of employed South Koreans in August 2019 rose by its biggest margin since March 2017 [File: Yonhap/EPA]

    South Korea's unemployment rate plummeted to the lowest level in nearly six years in August, a rare positive sign for an economy facing headwinds from weak global demand.

    The jobless rate fell to 3.1%, the lowest since November 2013, while the number of employed rose by 452,000 from a year earlier, the biggest increase since March 2017, data from the statistics office showed Wednesday.

    South Korea's export-driven economy is suffering from global trade tensions and prolonged weakness in tech demand, which are hitting capital investment and hiring, particularly in manufacturing. To aid economic growth and job creation, the government has offered a supplementary budget for this year and proposed record spending in 2020.

    "The data for August last year was bad, but even taking in the base effect, the job figures are a surprise," said Park Chong-hoon, an economist at Standard Chartered Bank in Seoul. "The loss in manufacturing jobs eased, making me question if this is a sign of the economy bottoming out. We'll have to see forthcoming data."

    Finance Minister Hong Nam-Ki said in a government meeting Wednesday that the August jobs data is "very encouraging and meaningful," and that the government would put in "all policy efforts" to extend the improvement.

    Still, the jobs data for August mask continued weakness in broad hiring. Those aged 60 and above accounted for 391,000 new jobs, while employment declined among the 40-49 age group. The elderly have benefited most from government efforts to create jobs.

    Manufacturers shed 24,000 jobs in August, extending more than a year-long decline in employment, although the pace of decline slowed from previous months. The retail and wholesale sector lost 53,000 jobs, while the social services sector added 174,000 jobs.

    SOURCE: Bloomberg