Left Menu
Development News Edition

FEATURE-No money, no hope: S.Korea's 'Dirt Spoons' turn against Moon

FEATURE-No money, no hope: S.Korea's 'Dirt Spoons' turn against Moon
Image Credit: Flickr

Hwang Hyeon-dong lives in a 6.6-square-metre (71-square-foot) cubicle near his university campus in Seoul, which comes with a shared bathroom and kitchen plus all the rice he can eat, that he rents for 350,000 won ($302) a month. The sparse rooms, in premises called goshi-won, were previously mostly used by less well-off students to temporarily cut off from the outside world while they studied for civil service job tests.

Now they are increasingly becoming permanent homes to young people like Hwang, who identifies himself among the "dirt spoons", those born to low-income families who have all but given up on social mobility. "If I try hard enough and get a good job, will I ever be able to afford a house?" said the 25-year-old, who lives in his small, cluttered room where clothes were piled on the bed. "Will I ever be able to narrow the gap that's already so big?"

The concept of dirt spoons and gold spoons, as those from better-off families are known, have been around for many years but exploded onto the political scene in recent years, undercutting support for liberal President Moon Jae-in. Moon came to power in 2017 on a platform of social and economic justice. Yet halfway through his five-year term, he has little progress to show the country's youth who have borne the brunt of deepening inequality.

Income disparity has instead widened since Moon took office, with the top income bracket now earning 5.5 times the bottom one, compared with 4.9 times before his inauguration, official data shows. Hwang, who is in his third year majoring in media studies, said a corruption scandal surrounding former Justice Minister Cho Kuk was a wakeup call for dirt spoons like himself who may have once believed that hard work will make a difference.

Cho and his college professor wife were accused of using their positions to help their daughter gain admission to medical school in 2015. Cho acknowledged he was a gold spoon and a "Gangnam liberal" motivated by social justice, but the approach backfired and he stepped down in October after only a month in the post. His wife is facing trial on allegations of forgery and financial fraud.


To many struggling youth, the scandal - which fuelled some of the largest protests of Moon's term - showed how gold spoons get further ahead with the help of their parents' status and wealth.

In a September poll of 3,289 people by recruiting service provider Saramin, three-quarters of respondents said parents' background was key to children's success. "I can't complain that we have different starting lines," said Kim Jae-hoon, 26, who also lives in a goshi-won cubicle.

"But it makes me angry that there are people who are getting help improperly. It's OK that someone was studying when I had to be working, but the fact that they are getting improper help makes me angry." Kim works as a part-time waiter at a bar near his school and gets by on 400,000 won a month for rent, food and allowances.

Most meals are "cup rice" he prepares in the shared kitchen, menial fare of rice and basic toppings - eggs, half an onion and sauce. Young, low-income voters like Kim have deserted Moon in record numbers.

Support among voters aged 19 to 29 dropped from 90% in June 2017 to 44% by October, according to a poll by Gallup Korea, while support among those considered on low-incomes has fallen 44 percentage points fall since mid-2017. "President Moon's been talking about equal opportunity, a level-playing field and justice. But, I feel a sense of betrayal because the current situation is far different from what he promised," said Hwang, who voted for Moon.

Older workers are also feeling the pinch as Moon tries to improve employment opportunities and social justice for young workers. In a televised town hall meeting last week, Moon conceded he had fallen short on those promises and said his declining support among youth was proof he had let them down.


The idea of dirt spoons and gold spoons has resonated in popular culture in recent years.

The film "Parasite" directed by Bong Joon Ho about two families at the opposite ends of the social spectrum has been a smash hit at home and abroad, winning the Cannes Palme d'Or and touted as an Oscar "Best Picture" contender. A popular fantasy digital cartoon called "Golden Spoon" features a poor boy swapping his family with his rich friend's by eating with a magic gold spoon is set to be serialized as a TV drama.

Even the hit boyband BTS, known as a "dirt spoon idol" for their early struggles, tackles the social divide, singing "Don't call me a spoon! I am just a human" in the song "Fire". Gold spoons are now a hot gift item, replacing gold rings traditionally given to children on their first birthdays, wishing them a wealthy life.

The fact that gold and dirt spoons are portrayed in popular culture in such a diverse range is reflective of the bitter hopelessness among the have-nots, said Kim Jong-min, the leader of civic group Youth Taeil, which supports young jobseekers and temporary workers. "But, powerful people in the Moon government and the ruling party - they portray themselves as reformists, but they are just the same old politicians that are not listening to the suffering of the low-income class," he said.

(This story has not been edited by Devdiscourse staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

Download The Devdiscourse News App for Latest News.



Beware! Maximum cyber criminals eye your personal data

A report of the World Economic Forum revealed that cyber security is increasingly becoming an issue of public security as the majority of cyber criminals are increasingly targetting individual internet users. This requires preventive measur...

WEF 2020: Trump seems politically correct in pulling out from Paris Agreement

If the survey of the World Economic Forum WEF is believed, Trump seems to enjoy the confidence of his people in flaying climate intuitions and climate activists. His preference for economic development over environmental protection not only...

From home to healthcare, here are Robotic innovations transforming lives

Lovot is equipped with more than 50 sensors such as thermography, microphone array, obstacle detection, and touch sensor to generate motion and emotions in real-time....

Translating words to deeds: Achieving gender parity in access to financial resources

... ...


Latest News

Odisha: Governor Ganeshi Lal hoists tricolour on Republic Day

Odisha Governor Ganeshi Lal hoisted the tricolour in Bhubaneswar on the occasion of Republic Day. Chief Minister and Biju Janata Dal BJD leader Naveen Patnaik hoisted the tricolour at the party headquarters in Bhubaneswar.Prime Minister Nar...

'What makes some flowers more attractive to mosquitoes decoded'

Researchers have unravelled how mosquitoes are attracted to the nectar scents from certain flowers, and not others, a finding that may lead to a better understanding of why some people get bitten more by the pesky insects than others. This ...

Consultative meetings with stakeholders to discuss methodology for commercial coal mining on Jan 28-29

In line with its plans to open up the countrys coal sector, the government has called meetings with various stakeholders to discuss the draft methodology as well as key bidding terms and conditions for auction of coal mines for commercial m...

Global Polo Star Ignacio "Nacho" Figueras Unveiled as Brand Ambassador for Saudi Arabia's AMAALA Ultra-luxury Resort Destination

Global polo star and Ralph Lauren model, Ignacio Figueras, has been named a brand ambassador for AMAALA, the ultra-exclusive tourism destination under development on Saudi ArabiasRed Sea coast.More commonly known as Nacho, Figueras is rank...

Give Feedback