Second chance at work gives seniors fresh purpose

Second chance at work gives seniors fresh purpose
Senior citizens trained as baristas work at a cafe in Jongno-gu, Seoul.

KOREA - Most of the commuters beeping their metro cards at City Hall Station in Seoul hardly notice the pink ribbon strapped around the old man's chest.

"How may I help you?" the ribbon reads. Above it stares a countenance with wrinkles that belie the satisfaction of working at this seemingly monotonous job.

"The job is very enjoyable," said Do Yeon-mun, a 78-year-old retired ginseng trader. It's not because it helps him financially, but because it helps him stay healthy.

"I work three hours in the morning, once every two days. So it doesn't really put a strain on my life."

Assistant work at subway stations is common public sector employment created for senior citizens as Korea seeks more jobs for them to address the fast-aging population and rising welfare costs.

Do and coworker Park Won-wook, a 78-year-old retired school teacher, stand at ticket gates and stop those attempting to enter without tickets, and help people with directions and other inquiries.

Working about 36 to 42 hours a month, the workers receive 200,000 won ($182) in monthly wages from the government.

"I've been working at this job for eight years now. It does help me financially," Park said.

Korea's population is aging at one of the fastest rates in the world. Those older than 65 are expected to account for 24.3 per cent of the population by 2030. The figure currently stands at about 11 per cent.

Korea's employment rate for senior citizens is significantly higher than the average for the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, but the country has the highest elderly poverty rate.

According to the Prime Minister's Office, Korea's senior employment rate stood at 28.9 per cent in 2011, while the OECD average came in at 12.3 per cent.

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