As Jeju Island's population rapidly increases, so do its social prbolems

  • Date 2022-09-26
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This is a copyrighted material of the Korea JoongAng Daily.

Saturday, September 24

The population of Jeju Island is growing at a rapid rate, surpassing 700,000 as of August, seven years faster than the timeline projected by Statistics Korea back in 2020.  
While the rapid population increase means an influx of capital into the island, it also led to various social problems including a hike in real estate prices, widening wealth gap and heavy traffic.  
According to data released by the Ministry of Interior and Safety on Sept. 17, the total population of Jeju Island reached 700,083 at the end of August, just nine years after reaching 600,000 in 2013.

The number of Korean nationals amounted to 679,016, accounting for roughly 96.9 percent of the population while the number of foreign nationals amounted to 21,067, or 3 percent of the island’s population. 
By age groups, the working-age population, or those aged between 15 and 64, accounted for 70.2 percent of the population, while the elderly, aged 65 and over, accounted for 16.4 percent. The younger population, aged 14 and under, accounted for 13.4 percent.

A project to establish Jeju Global Education City in Seogwipo-si that began in 2008 attracted many parents and children interested in English education to the island as many international schools were established there. The migration was also in part stimulated by a trend among Koreans in the 2010s to start their second phase of life on the island, away from crowded cities like Seoul, like celebrity Lee Hyo-ri who moved to Jeju after she got married in 2013.
Net migration, or the number of immigrants minus emigrants, to Jeju Island increased roughly threefold from 437 in 2010 to 14,532 in 2016. Although the growth slowed down in the following years, migration to Jeju Island steadily continued, with the net migration figure standing at 2,936 in 2019 and 3,917 last year.  
While the increase in population is helping grow the island’s economy, quality of life is being threatened by rising social problems, the most noticeable of which is a surge in housing prices.  
Prices of apartments located in some parts of the island have almost tripled in the past five to six years. In particular, real estate prices near Aewol-eup, Jeju-si, where Lee Hyo-ri used to live in, have increased as much as 10 fold compared to a decade ago.  
The soaring real estate prices have led to a widening wealth gap.  
According to recent data published by the Bank of Korea, the average household net worth in Jeju was estimated to be 491.5 million won ($348,850) as of March last year. That number is the second highest among cities nationwide, after Seoul which recorded 693.5 million won. The data excluded Sejong.
Jeju has taken the second-highest spot since March 2017 through the same month last year. Net worth refers to the value of assets minus the value of total debt. 
However, the island's Palma ratio, which is an income inequality indicator defined as the ratio of the top 10 percent’s income divided by that of the bottom 40 percent, is higher than the nationwide average. On Jeju Island, the richest 10 percent owned 14.4 times more compared to the poorest 40 percent. The nationwide Palma ration is 11.2.
Environmental issues are also becoming more prevalent. 
The amount of daily domestic waste has skyrocketed by 50.6 percent to 1150.9 tons in 2022, from 764 tons in 2011, according to data from the Ministry of Environment. In 2020, the amount of domestic waste per capita stood at 1.64 kilograms in Jeju, the largest in the nation and double the national average of 0.89 kilograms. Jeju Island authorities estimate the tourism industry is responsible for nearly 40 percent of the island's waste.
Traffic congestion and lack of parking spaces are other serious issues the island is dealing with. As of June this year, the cumulative number of registered cars on the island reached 676,710. 
“In the era of the population of 700,000, we can expect positive effects including improved brand value of Jeju Island. However, we are facing a number of challenges. We will make efforts to address issues including environmental pollution and lack of jobs or social overhead capital,” said Oh Young-hun, governor of Jeju Island.  

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