Students sacrifice clubs and socializing for poorly paid part time jobs

Posted on : 2016-03-13 11:58 KST Modified on : 2016-03-13 11:58 KST
Despite working long hours, students are still left barely scraping by, with little left over after basic expenses
Kim Bo-mi
Kim Bo-mi

“Since I’m fully aware that they’ve got to do their part-time jobs, it’s not easy to ask them to come to a rally, to vote or to hang out,” the woman said.

The woman was Kim Bo-mi, 24, the student council president at Seoul National University, who is majoring in consumer and child studies. Kim was interviewed on Mar. 10 at the university’s student union, located in the Gwanak District of Seoul.

Kim’s reference to part-time jobs resonates since an increasing number of students are not merely using such jobs to earn spending money but are relying on them to make ends meet.

When asked why Kim wants the minimum wage raised to 10,000 won (US$8.50), she says that “it’s hard to get by on less than that.” For some university students, part-time jobs are necessary for survival.

One of Kim’s university friends is a fourth-year student, on the verge of graduating, but works at a bar near the university on weekends from 7 pm to 2 am. Her friend makes 7,000 won an hour, slightly more than the minimum wage of 6,030 won an hour, with no bonus for late-night work.

But even that only adds up to about 400,000 won (US$335) a month. After paying for transportation and phone, that is just enough to cover a student’s daily expenses. Rent is another matter altogether, making it necessary for students to find another part-time job or get some help from their parents.

According to figures provided by the Seoul Institute about the ability of university students living in Seoul to cover the cost of housing, the average monthly cost of food, transportation and mobile service was 380,000 won as of 2013.

Add in the average rent of 500,000 won (according to the Presidential Committee on the Young Generation, as of 2014) and the monthly tuition of 550,000 won (the Korean Council for University Education, as of 2014, converted to a monthly figure), and university students need at least 1.43 million won a month.

This means that, even if university students work part-time jobs, financial independence from their parents is out of the question.

As the world enters a period of low growth, major countries are sensing that the minimum wage is the last form of protection for the economically vulnerable.

US President Barack Obama set a goal of increasing the minimum wage to US$10.10 (about 12,000 won) starting this year (but minimum wage is determined at the state level).

Germany has instituted a new minimum wage system, with the rate set at 8.5 euros (about 11,900 won).

The Japanese government is also moving toward a policy of assisting those who lack a stable income and who work for long hours. It has raised the average minimum wage around the country to 1,000 yen (about 10,500 won).

Among all the member states of the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development), South Korea is the country with the second longest working hours after Mexico.

One of the reasons why South Koreans work for so long is because of their low wages. This is also a livelihood issue for young people and students.

Kim wishes that university students in their early and mid-20s like herself would not have to do so many part-time jobs. She thinks that they ought to have time to have a variety of experiences and to explore their identity.

Kim is well aware that, in today’s world, the tearful hours that people in their 20s spend on the job is no guarantee for their future.

“When you get your paycheck, you really ought to be able to buy yourself a fancy meal and have a drink with your friends,” Kim said. “It would be great if students didn’t have to sacrifice club activities, exchange student programs and foreign language study because of these part-time jobs.”

“If our society forces young people to pass up on opportunities because they’re spending all their time making money, do you think that’s a healthy society?” Kim asked.

Kim believes that no time is better than the present – with the parliamentary elections around the corner – for young people and university students to let politicians know what they really think.

“The reason why young people are uninterested in politics is because politics is distant from the life issues that they feel. I really want to press politicians to adopt a minimum wage of 10,000 won, since this is directly linked with the lives of university students and young people, for whom part-time jobs are an everyday experience,” she said. 

By Choi Woo-ri, staff reporter

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