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Seoul Metropolitan Government Work With Youth to Tackle Unemployment and Housing Issues

Author: Jinhwa Park
Published Date: 3 June 2016

Seoul is the capital of South Korea and plays a central role in politics, economy, industries and the culture of South Korea. It’s a relatively small city when you consider how many people are living in it. Seoul is 605 square kilometers large and is a home to about 10 million people. The city emerged from the ashes of the Korean War, and went through rapid modernization and economic development. But even these remarkable achievements couldn’t necessarily guarantee better living conditions for the citizens. Many social problems like social and economic inequality issues, the regional conflict between the Southern and Northern part of Seoul, and youth issues remain unsolved. All deserve attention, but the youth issues require particularly special attention since they are directly associated with the city’s future.

Present day youths of Seoul are desperate. They are forced out on a dead-end street with no hope in sight. Ordinary aspirations enjoyed by previous generations now seem unachievable. Things like having a job, getting married, and starting a family have become unreachable dreams. Frustration settled in. The youth unemployment rate which has already surpassed that of the IMF era made them dumfounded. The skyrocketing house rental prices aggravate their housing insecurity. The higher the rent, the heavier the burdens became. Household debt accelerated accordingly. Without any regular jobs to alleviate the situation, there seems no way out. The house poor rate among the youth in Seoul has reached 23%, which is a lot higher than that of the entire nation (14.7%). So the youth started to flee from Seoul. The number of applicants for the workout program and NEETs (Not In Education, Employment or Training) surged. There is a clear visibility of how hard it became to live in Seoul.

In order to break through this harsh situation, both the central and local governments have tried to make and carry out many youth policies over many years. Despite repeated efforts, the situation still worsened, perplexing the youth and the entire nation. That was until the governments realized that efforts were ineffective because policy making was limited to the creation of jobs, rather than actually listening to what the youth actually wanted in practice. After long and hard contemplation on the actual needs of the youth, Seoul Metropolitan Government (SMG) came up with a program that can actually help and support the youth. It is 2020 Seoul Youth Guarantee (SYG) plan launched in November 2015. Through this plan, SMG provided thousands of the city’s youths with active supports such as funding for participating social activities, housing allowance, and space renting for social activities. SYG was to give some substantive help to the youth but on top of that, it was to give the youth hope and dreams for their future.

SYG wasn’t a program made overnight. From 2012 to 2015, SMG worked hard to gather the real voices of the youth. Consulting with many experts in various sectors followed. Whatever it took to make SYG an effective program, SMG tried, exemplifying Mayor Park’s administrative principle which places high importance on the participation of the involved bodies in designing policies. 23 forums regarding SYG were held and more than two thousand youths and experts were invited. In July 2015, Seoul Youth Council was invited for discussing how to implement SYG and in the following October, voices of the youth who had lost their hope were gathered and listened to through a month program called ‘Seoul Employment Trail’. (‘Seoul Employment Trail’ is a representative employment program of Seoul, which visits newly created work places, lead a social consensus through cooperation with companies, universities and labor groups, and searches for solutions to unemployment by creating new jobs.)

Going through these processes, SMG could get closer to the real problems and draw a better picture of the challenges the youth are facing. SMG got to realize that the suffering youth become the suffering senior, and it is this vicious circle that should take focus, rather than fragmentary problems that the youth are currently facing. From this new outlook, SYG started.

SYG is a five-year program designed to encourage the youth and give them chances of developing their own individual and independent capacity to carry on their life. There are 20 projects in 4 sectors: funding for social participation activities, jobs, housing, and spaces for social activities. SMG aims to show the ways that the youth can overcome the difficulties they encounter in their life. The allocated budget for SYG is 713.6 billion KRW.

One of the projects is ‘Youth Activity Support Project’. This is to provide a total of 3,000 young jobseekers in Seoul with some financial support to help them work and achieve independence. By supporting the basic social activities of the youth, the project believes their financial independence can be acquired. The subjects are youth aged between 19 and 29, that have lived in Seoul longer than a year with a low income. The selected youths can receive 500,000 KRW subsidy every month for six months. A city official who is in charge of this project says that the long term job seekers and low income families are the priority since they can hardly access any job training programs or other chances to develop their capacity. SMG hopes it to serve as a stepping stone for the youth who have lost their chances to stand up by themselves.

Another project is the ‘New Deal Jobs’. This is a kind of internship in the public sector. SMG provides youths with jobs in public sector, such as civic convenience, traffic safety, parks, welfare and education, and pays the wage for their work period. As of 2015, there were 519 open positions, and the city government plans to expand that number to 5,000 by 2020. The internship period will also be extended to up to 23 months from the current 11 months. Anyone between 19 and 39 may apply for the internship positions. SMG expects that this project would provide intensive support for young people to gain work experience and employability.

In addition, SMG are planning to provide a total of 4,440 public rental housing for young house poor in Seoul until 2018. There are a total of 6 projects including the ‘2030 Subway Station Area Housing Project for Young Adults’. This project is a program to deregulate public restrictions within areas close to subway stations in order to revitalize housing development and to supply young adults aged 20-39 with accommodation opportunities. It will require private construction businesses to build them all as semi-public rental housing in return for beneficial mitigated regulation and the change in the status of the designated land. The SMG plans to have 10~25% of the houses built as smaller units (45㎡ or smaller) and supply them to college students, those fresh out of school, and newlyweds at 60-80% of the prices in nearby areas. It is expected that the project will ease the pressure on many young people, who are forced to move out of the city due to high housing prices and jeonse (full deposit payment up-front for leasing a house) /wolse (monthly rent). SMG will enact the municipal ordinance in close cooperation with the City Council and start the project in earnest. It is expected that the houses will be available by the first half of 2017. Pilot projects will be started in areas close to Chungjeongno Station and Bonghwasan Station in July this year.

Additionally, SMG keeps making Youth Zones (Zero Gravity Zones) for social activities. The ‘Zero Gravity Zone’ was an idea formulated by Korean youths that has now been turned into reality. In 2013, the first of these “Youth Hubs” was launched in Nokbeon-dong, Eunpyeong-gu, to promote youth employment. With the establishment of the Zero Gravity Zone in G-Valley, in 2014, and in Daebang-dong in 2015, a total of five of these centers will be established by 2018 in youth-concentrated areas of Seoul. The Zero Gravity Zones are envisioned to be a creative sharing space for youths. Here, young people can create their own community to host various training and activity programs to build competency for employment, freely communicate and discuss various contemporary youth issues, and find rest and relaxation from seeking employment or working.

The SYG plan is of great significance in that it changed the direction of youth policy from only creating jobs to supporting every aspect of youths lives. However, when we think about this from a different point of view, as it is attempted for the first time, the originally predicted result may not come through. In order to affirm the project, SMG should evaluate carefully the process of policy implementation. All eventualities should be considered and remedial actions should be planned accordingly, should the SYG encounter unexpected problems. SMG hopes that it will serve as a shoulder to lean on for youths, and I expect that SYG will play a positive role in making the lives of the youths in Seoul better.