The Constitution establishes the right to work (8 hours work day), free medical care and material support for the elderly, the sick and the disabled. Already around 1990, healthcare and free social childcare were well developed. Formally, maternity leave and early retirement are also guaranteed. Officially, women are said to have the same pay as men for the same work. Wages have consistently been low but have been accompanied by heavily subsidized rents and food costs.
The first approaches to the liberalization of business in 2002 were accompanied by large wage increases for some categories (most of them military and senior civil servants), while other groups (e.g. farm workers) received small increases, which did not correspond to the cost increases in daily life. Socio-economic differences have thus become noticeable in North Korea. The high-wage groups can afford to buy what they need in the new free markets, with high, demand-determined prices, while the low-wage groups, i.e. the majority, are referred to the limited but cheap allocation of the ration cards. These differences have been accentuated during recent years’ severe food shortages. In 2004, UN agencies estimated that more than 1/3 of toddlers and 1/3 of mothers suffered from chronic malnutrition and thus had weakened resilience.
In 2003, there were 32 doctors per 10,000 residents and 132 hospital beds per 10,000 residents.
It is extremely difficult to get an idea of the North Korean labor market from the outside. Visit AbbreviationFinder to see the definitions of NK and acronym for North Korea. Unemployment is not officially recognized but has arisen when state inefficient companies collapsed over the past 15 years. Many who have jobs must also have additional income and informal jobs have therefore emerged. This is not sanctioned by the state which sees it as anti-socialist activities. But such a new labor market is likely to dampen social problems.
In March 2008, the country threatened to resume its nuclear program after the US and South Korea had begun joint naval exercises.
In March 2009, the military arrested 2 North American journalists accused of entering North Korea from China without a valid visa. They were subsequently sentenced to 12 years in prison. In August, US President Bill Clinton managed to release the two unlucky journalists during a personal diplomatic mission to North Korea for exactly that purpose.
In April 2009, North Korea attempted to put its first satellite, Kwangmyŏngsŏng-2 into orbit. It was a communications satellite. The country claimed that the launch had gone perfectly, but both Russia, the United States and South Korea agreed that the satellite had crashed. Nevertheless, the United States feared the launch was an attempt to build the capability to fire intercontinental missiles. If this capability were developed, North Korea could hit targets in the United States – just as the United States can hit targets in North Korea. The United States and the UN’s South Korean President, Ban Kee Monn, therefore, tried to get the Security Council to adopt new sanctions, but this was opposed by Russia and China. The compromise was that the council endorsed a statement by Moon condemning the launch, demanding that North Korea not carry out further launches. North Korea responded again by declaring that Moon’s statement was a serious attack on the country’s national sovereignty, that it withdrew from the 6-party negotiations and that it resumed its nuclear enrichment program. At the same time, the country threw out IAEA inspectors. A month later, the country conducted its 2nd underground nuclear test, which had a blast of a few kilotons.
In August 2009, US President Bill Clinton visited North Korea to negotiate the release of two North American journalists who were punished for illegally entering the country.
In May 2010, a South Korean ship sailed off the coast of North Korea. South Korea was initially hesitant about the cause of the explosion, but together with the United States subsequently claimed that the ship had been sunk by a North Korean torpedo. South Korea even displayed the torpedo. However, the torpedo was in very good condition, considering that the explosion it was supposed to have caused had blown the South Korean ship over. North Korea refused to have anything to do with the explosion, pointing out that it was more likely the US was behind the slump to further tighten relations with North Korea. Historically, the United States has a long tradition of organizing attacks on its own, which military opponents are then blamed for.