October 01, 2023

What’s in it for the working man? Why North Koreans show up for low-wage jobs

State-assigned jobs rarely pay a livable salary, but there are other benefits for reporting to one’s workplace

A workplace mystery emerges when looking at present-day North Korea: Millions of men continue to attend officially assigned jobs in the state economy, even though most do not pay survivable wages.

The average official salary in the DPRK is between 5,000 and 10,000 North Korean won a month, roughly equivalent to $1-3 at the black market exchange rate. While retail prices are low in North Korea, two dollars a month is still not enough to keep one alive. Rice costs about 5,000 won per kilogram and corn roughly half this, meaning the average worker could only purchase a few kilograms of corn with an entire month’s salary.