While South Korea has achieved impressive economic growth and now ranks 10th in the world for GDP and GNI in 2021, the country still struggles with significant issues related to social welfare and mobility. According to the 2020 Social Mobility Report by the World Economic Forum, South Korea was ranked 25th among major countries worldwide in terms of its social mobility. Even though its economic status ranks high and particularly its GNI per capita ranks 6th among countries with a population of over 50 million, South Korea experiences significantly low levels of social mobility.
The current social structure has contributed to widening gaps between the rich and poor, parents and adult children, the capital area and other regions, as well as urban and rural areas.
In this article, I emphasize the role of the National Assembly in addressing these issues rather than the executive branch. Therefore, let us explore policy solutions related to the upcoming 22nd National Assembly election.
Challenges Faced by South Korea:
South Korea’s social welfare and mobility systems perpetuate a lack of mobility and economic polarization, with family and region of birth playing a significant role in determining one’s education and economic status. This has resulted in a growing wealth gap between individuals born into affluent families and those born into impoverished ones.
Additionally, regional polarization has caused underdevelopment in many areas, prompting a brain drain phenomenon.
In summary, Korean society is rapidly moving towards a deterministic society where an individual’s life is predetermined by the family and region they are born into.
Policies, Initiatives, and Legislation:
To address the challenges faced by South Korea, policymakers must adopt a comprehensive approach that prioritizes improving the quality of life for all citizens. Fragmented policies based on each ministry and department are inadequate to solve this problem. To address the decline in national social welfare and social mobility in Korea, we must recognize that it stems from the concentration of power and resources in Seoul and the metropolitan area. Rather than relying on mechanical balance, we need to explore unique growth models for each region and create conditions that encourage people to settle there. Regional balanced development is the key to addressing the social issues facing Korean society, including ultra-low birth rates and an aging population. By doing so, we can find effective solutions that promote social welfare and mobility for all.
The Yoon Seok Yeol administration aims to achieve its national goal and agenda of “The Era of Localization” through the proposed “Localization Era Special Act.” However, the National Assembly has not made significant progress in passing this bill. This includes transforming the job ecosystem and education system, as well as promoting regional innovation and balanced development to address regional disparities. Given the current political impasse, the executive branch’s ability to create policies is limited. The government’s policymaking capacity will be heavily influenced by the legislative branch until a resolution is reached.
The upcoming 22nd National Assembly election presents an opportunity for lawmakers to create a framework that attracts individuals who can share and legislate solutions for the issues facing South Korea. Political parties must showcase their plans and proposals for promoting social mobility and addressing the challenges posed by the country’s social welfare and mobility systems. The party elected into power will have the responsibility of implementing policies that promote equal opportunities for all citizens, irrespective of their family background or place of birth. They must focus on addressing regional polarization and introducing measures to stimulate innovation and development in underdeveloped areas outside the capital.
South Korea must work towards creating a “Just Born, Not Made Society” that offers equal opportunities to all citizens. Achieving this goal requires a comprehensive approach that addresses issues of social welfare and mobility through improved education and job ecosystems, as well as promoting balanced regional development that encourages innovation and growth in areas outside the capital. The upcoming 22nd National Assembly election provides a crucial opportunity for promoting equal social opportunities and regional innovation and development in South Korea. It is the responsibility of elected officials to implement policies that promote social mobility and create a “Just Born, Not Made Society”.
© Dr. Young D. Lee