Let me begin the 16th Cabinet Meeting.
The Government should attend to state affairs unwaveringly with an attitude of assuming full responsibility for the people. There must not be even the slightest moment of negligence with regard to epidemic prevention and control, the economy, people’s livelihoods and national security. I urge all ministries and agencies to have a sense of duty and to do what needs to be done with utmost devotion so that people can find the Government reliable and inspiring.
After suffering indescribable tribulations, our economy is moving toward a bright light beyond COVID-19’s dark tunnel. It is obvious that a warm breeze heralding economic recovery is blowing, as evidenced by forecasts that the economy will return to a pre-COVID-19 state within the first half of this year. However, it is also the hard truth that there are still many people who cannot sense the warmth of recovery.
Innumerable, countless people are still trapped in that dark tunnel – the unemployed who cannot find jobs again, non-permanent workers who are plagued by job insecurity and dwindling income, the self-employed who bear the brunt of the COVID-19 crisis and cannot afford to pay even their monthly rent, university students and young people who have difficulties finding even just a part-time job and women whose careers are interrupted by the heavy burdens of child rearing. Those who were among the first to be devastated by COVID-19 are still struggling even as the economy recovers. There is a saying “Disasters never descend upon everyone equally and are even harsher on the poor.” This is manifesting itself as a heartbreaking reality even along the path of economic recovery. As people’s last bastion of protection, the Government should serve as a reliable buttress enabling those who have been debilitated by the impact of COVID-19 to get back on their feet without losing hope.
Even if the economy recovers, lost jobs will not be recovered immediately. It is never easy for the self-employed to reopen their closed businesses. It also takes a lot of time to recover lost household income. Even short-term jobs are desperately needed for low-income people who currently have no idea how to make ends meet. Employment support funds and training assistance can be like long-sought rain for those in desperate need. The Government should focus more on supporting the vulnerable and low-income groups as well as maintaining and creating jobs through more active fiscal spending than it has done to date. I urge you to make every possible effort to ensure that economic recovery leads to job recovery, ultimately bringing about an inclusive recovery through which everyone recovers together by minimizing COVID-19-induced inequalities.
In particular, young people at the most crucial juncture of their lives have been exposed the most to the COVID-19 shock. During the 1997 Asian financial crisis – as doors to job openings slammed shut amid severe restructuring – they became known as the “IMF generation” and underwent immense hardship. Called the “COVID-19 generation,” young people today are also going through a dismal time due to an uncertain future and job crisis that is as serious as the one in 1997.
If their difficulties are not resolved quickly, their entire lives following their youths are in danger of becoming unstable. They can become what is known as a “lockdown generation.” We should listen attentively to the International Labor Organization’s warning, “If we do not take significant and immediate action to improve their situation, the legacy of the virus could be with us for decades.” This has become a crucial task that our society has to prioritize. I ask the Government to empathize with young people, help lighten their burdens and come up with special measures that go beyond what’s being done. My Administration enacted the Framework Act on Young Adults and announced the basic plan for youth policy, but this is only the beginning. Most of all, I would like you to pay special attention to putting policies in place that meet young people’s expectations and that enable them to sense the benefits.
Jobs are what is most important to young people. The Government has to serve as a pump primer to add even one more job for them. As we have entered a period of economic recovery, I ask you to strengthen government support so that private-sector businesses can take this opportunity to create better and more jobs. With the recent business venture boom, startups and business ventures are becoming treasure houses for new jobs. I also ask you to focus on creating an environment in which young people can fully devote themselves to creative work. In particular, it is necessary to significantly increase vocational training for decent jobs. Promising SMEs, business ventures and innovative companies complain that they cannot find enough young people who match their needs. I would like you to make special efforts to increase high-quality jobs by strengthening vocational training that cultivates professionals for digital, data, artificial intelligence, software and other future industries.
Housing stability is also one of the most pressing issues for young people’s livelihoods. I ask you to put more effort into broadening home purchase opportunities for young people, newlyweds and those who do not yet own one. In addition to expanding the housing supply, I would like you to thoroughly review measures that can meticulously incorporate young people’s needs into our policies.
Prior to deliberating the agenda items, let me say that new Seoul Mayor Oh Se-Hoon is attending for the first time today. Mayor Oh Se-hoon, I would like to congratulate you on winning the election and welcome you to your first Cabinet Meeting with us.