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[Editorial] Dubious jobless stats

One quote popularized by Mark Twain says: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.” This quote should undoubtedly appeal to well educated young Korean people with no jobs, who question the validity of official statistics about youth unemployment.

A young man fresh out of university may find that half his former classmates have yet to land jobs. But he is told by Statistics Korea that the unemployment rate among young people stood at a mere 6.3 percent in September. What has produced the yawning gap between his perception and the official figure?

The Korea Development Institute, a state-funded think tank, has recently come up with an answer. It says that the discrepancy results from the different ways of framing questionnaires.

The KDI says the data it collected based on its own questionnaire revealed a unemployment rate of 21.2 percent among those in their 20s who resided in Seoul, more than four times the official rate of 4.8 percent. The questionnaire, the KDI says, was constructed as an alternative to the one framed by Statistics Korea under the guidelines of the International Labor Organization.

Statistics Korea, however, claims the KDI’s data collection had serious flaws, including the unwarrantedly small size of the sample and unauthorized terms used in the questionnaire. Moreover, it says, there is a great difference between a KDI question asking whether or not a respondent desired to have a job at the moment and its question on whether or not a respondent pursued a job search during the previous four weeks.

Statistics Korea may adhere to the ILO guidelines in collecting date as it claims. Yet, ordinary people tend to perceive that the portion of the population without jobs is much larger than the one indicated by official unemployment rates.

Few are well aware of statistical technicality regarding the classification of people aged 15 or older into the economically active, the unemployed and the economically inactive population. Actually, a man, who has given up the idea of seeking a job out of frustration, cannot be blamed for regarding himself as an unemployed person.

The overall September unemployment rate of 3 percent, as officially announced, indicated that the nation neared full employment. As such, it should have few problems with regard to the provision of jobs. Yet job creation tops the administration’s economic policy. Statistics Korea is well advised to ponder why.