SEOUL, March 17 (Korea Bizwire) — South Korea reported job losses for the 12th straight month in February as the new coronavirus outbreak continued to deal a blow to the job market, data showed Wednesday.
The number of employed people reached 26.3 million last month, 473,000 fewer than a year earlier, according to the data compiled by Statistics Korea.
The country has reported job losses every month since March 2020 due to the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.
It marked the longest streak of job losses since April 1999, when the number of employed people fell for the 16th consecutive month.
But the February job reduction was lower than the 982,000 recorded in January, the highest in 22 years, as economic activity increased amid relaxed social distancing rules.
The coronavirus pandemic has pummeled face-to-face service sectors, such as hospitality and retailers, as people refrained from visiting shops on concerns about infection risks.
For all of 2020, the nation shed the largest number of jobs since 1998.
The latest data showed the local job market still remains in limbo even as the South Korean economy is on a recovery track on brisk exports.
“Job losses eased in February from a month earlier as the country eased its virus curbs, helping the sectors providing face-to-face services see fewer job reductions,” Jeong Dong-myeong, a senior Statistics Korea official, said at a press briefing.
On Feb. 15, the country lowered its tougher social distancing measures by one notch to Level 2, the third highest in its five-tier scheme, in the greater Seoul area and to Level 1.5 in other regions.
Finance Minister Hong Nam-ki said he expects a slight improvement in the job market in March.
“Job data is expected to improve next month, helped by the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, relaxed virus curbs, robust exports and the base effect from job slumps in March last year,” Hong wrote in a Facebook message.
The number of unemployed people came to 1.35 million last month, up 201,000 from the previous year.
The country’s jobless rate rose 0.8 percentage point on-year to 4.9 percent last month.
The unemployment rate for young adults — those aged between 15 and 29 — reached 10.1 percent in February, indicating that younger people face tougher conditions in finding jobs.
The number of non-economically active people or those who have no willingness to work, hit 17.3 million last month, up 562,000 from a year earlier.
Job losses were pronounced in the service sector, with the manufacturing industry, the backbone of the country’s economy, also taking heat from the pandemic.
The accommodation and food service segment reported an on-year fall of 232,000 jobs last month, and the wholesale and retail sector lost 194,000 posts.
The manufacturing sector shed 27,000 jobs on-year last month, smaller than a decline of 46,000 posts in January.
But the public administration sector gained 38,000 jobs and the social welfare segment added 91,000 positions last month.
Temporary workers bore the brunt of the virus fallout. Workers with permanent jobs rose 82,000 on-year in February. But the number of temporary workers dropped 317,000 on-year, and jobs for day laborers declined 80,000.
The finance ministry earlier said the number of employed people is expected to grow 150,000 this year, a turnaround from last year’s estimated job losses of 220,000.