Due to gender discrimination in the labor force, women are falling into poverty
On February 26, a mother and her two daughters were found dead in the basement of a house in Seokchon-dong, Songpa-gu, Seoul. Adding to the tragedy was the fact that it is women who are not provided with welfare benefits they deserve and thus, suffer in poverty.
‘Feminization of poverty’ is a prevalent trend in Korea. According to last year’s data released by Statistics Korea, poverty rate recorded 16.5%. The poverty rate for women(18.4%) was higher than that of men(14.6%).
Just as the recent suicide case shows, poverty among divorced or widowed women is especially severe. Women often labor in irregular or low-income jobs and face on-the-job gender discrimination as well as low wage. Without a second income-earning adult, therefore, lone mother households are most susceptible to poverty and they constitute the working poor.
Lawmaker Sim Sangjeong of the Justice Party commissioned an analysis of Statistics Korea’s Regional Employment Survey (as of June 2013). According to the analysis outcome unveiled on March 5, divorced and widowed women numbered 1,061,139, accounting for 67.9% of the total workforce. Their monthly average wage recorded KRW 1,122,000 which is KRW 485,000 less than those with husbands and KRW 520,500 less than unmarried women. Around 720,000 women earned less than the minimum cost of living for a household of three (KRW 1,260,000) which is even less than what the three women in Songpa used to make.
Statistics Korea revealed that the average income of a male householder is KRW 50,080,000 which is over two times greater than a female householder’s income of KRW 22,470,000. Female breadwinners who earn less than KRW 10,000,000 represented 34%, while those who receive less than KRW 30,000,000 recorded as high as 75.4%.
As for the analysis result, Sim said “We need to come up with fundamental solutions so that underprivileged women will not be left behind when it comes to injury benefits as well as general welfare benefits."
Co-representative Jeong Moonja of the Korean Women’s Association United commented “We are witnessing some limitations of the traditional family structure headed by males. The traditional structure under which a father goes out to make money while a mother stays at home and does the housekeeping debilitates the mother’s ability to provide financial support for the family when her marital status changes due to divorce or the death of her husband. As a result, the entire household may be placed at higher risk of poverty. Women should more actively participate in economic activities.”
Pointing out that the three women in the recent suicide case worked either at a restaurant or a convenience store, Jeong added “Irregular or part-time workers hired by restaurants or convenience stores are not entitled to welfare benefits. Instead of creating low-quality part-time jobs, the government should shift its focus to improve the current welfare system so that women can enjoy better working conditions."
Professor Seok Jae-eun at the Department of Social Welfare, Hallym University said “Korea’s female economic activity rate is only around 50% which indicates that women’s participation in the workforce still has not become a norm. Indeed, there is a limited number of jobs that women can freely return to after a career break they took to give birth, for instance. Job polarization has affected female workers more severely than before. We need to reform the current welfare system so that it can cover different types of families including female-headed households and single-parent households. Social welfare delivery system should be changed as well so that welfare benefits may be offered at the discretion of social workers.”