The rapid spread of COVID-19 across the globe has left worsening inequality in its wake. The gap between the “haves” and the “have nots,” which was widening before the pandemic, has further been exacerbated and threatens to slow prospects for economic growth in the post-pandemic world. Seeing this already start to play out in his own country, progressive South Korean President Moon Jae-in is attempting to promote a more equitable recovery but is facing headwinds from business groups and the political opposition.
South Korea was struggling with economic inequality before 2020, though the issue has clearly gotten worse as large swaths of the economy have been seriously affected by the coronavirus. A growing sense of frustration with the disparity – imbued in popular culture by films such as “Parasite” and the widespread use of “Hell Joseon” among young South Koreans to refer to their home country – played a crucial role in Moon’s 2017 election. Since then, Moon has pursued an “income-led growth agenda,” which included raising the minimum wage, shortening the workweek, and creating thousands of new jobs. That helped to lower the degree of wage disparity since he took office. However, much of this progress is now threatened by the pandemic.