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[NPR] Half of S. Korea’s elderly live in poverty

April 10, 2015
Koreans — many of them elderly — line up to receive 500 won, or about 50 cents, from Nam Seoul Church in southern Seoul. Each week, organizers say, 300 to 500 seniors show up at each church that offers the service, and the line starts hours in advance. (Photo credit: Elise Hu/NPR)

Koreans — many of them elderly — line up to receive 500 won, or about 50 cents, from Nam Seoul Church in southern Seoul. Each week, organizers say, 300 to 500 seniors show up at each church that offers the service, and the line starts hours in advance. (Photo credit: Elise Hu/NPR)

[NPR.ORG]

South Korea may be known for its high-tech advances, luxury skin care products and rapid economic rise, but these days, the generation largely responsible for all that growth isn’t faring so well. South Korea has the worst senior poverty rate among developed nations, and the options for seniors are slim.

On Thursdays, churches give out 500 won coins — equivalent to about 50 cents — to individuals who line up. Throngs of Korea’s seniors wait for hours to shuffle past church volunteers for small handouts and a juice box, or maybe a banana. Each week, organizers say, 300 to 500 seniors show up at each church, and the line starts hours in advance.

“There are a lot of people who don’t have anything else to do,” says Han Dal-yong, who is nearing 80 and spoke with NPR outside Nam Seoul Church in southern Seoul. “What are you going to do if you’re alone in the house? You might as well come out here.”

As much as many seniors need the cash, they also come for community. Loneliness can be as difficult to deal with as being poor.

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