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Economic Crisis and Broken Social Structure Results in Nearly 50 Percent of South Korea's Elderly Living in Poverty, Highest Rate Among Developed Nations, Says OECD

by Therese Agcopra / Oct 26, 2015 01:49 AM EDT
Many of South Korea's elderly are living in poverty, receiving little to no support from families and the government. (Photo by Chung Sung Jun/Getty Images)

South Korea has been reported to have the senior poverty rate among developed countries, with about of the country's elderly living in relative poverty, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Every Thursday, South Korean seniors line up outside churches were 500 won, around 50 cents, are given out. NPR reported April 10 around 300 to 500 senior citizens show up at churches around the country to receive money and food.

Church leaders started handing out provisions for homeless people in the 1990s. However, in recent years a large number of those who show up are retirees, with some of them already near 100 years old.

Professor Ku In Hoe from Seoul National University said nearly half of the elderly population in South Korea is poor. Citing a 2013 report from the OECD, South Korea has the highest senior poverty rate among 34 developed nations.

IB Times reported Mar. 16 that elderly people living in poverty only earn 50 percent or less of the median household income.

Pastor Choi Seong Won, who also sets up a weekly mobile soup kitchen for the eldery, told CNN, "(Part of) the reason behind the growing rate of elderly poverty is the more than two years of serious economic crisis in Korea, along with the global economic downturn."

Aside from the economic crisis, the elderly also attribute their situation to the change in the traditional social structure.

Pastor Choi says gone are the days when children looked after their parents.

"I think there's a growing number of homeless elders because sons and daughters and our government are not taking good care of them," he says.

The South Korean government, however, does provide basic pension for retirees. The pension only amounts to $200 a month, which is just a quarter of the minimum necessary to sustain a single household, said the National Pension Research Institute Survey.

The pension is not universal and only 35 percent of retirees are receiving it.

According to the government, the insufficiency of the national pension program is due to the fact that it only existed in 1988.

The government hopes that once the system matures, more retirees will be funded. It predicts that 90 percent of people aged 64 and over will receive pension by 2060.

"The problem of poverty among the elderly population will get more serious when the country's elderly population grows further and baby boomers begin to retire in full swing," said Kim Bok Soon of the Korea Labor Institute.

In the meantime, South Korea's elderly continues to line up at churches as they await a change in their circumstances. 

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