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A rags-to-riches story is hard to find these days

Posted September. 26, 2017 08:04,   

Updated September. 26, 2017 08:30

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Sonia, who was born in Puerto Rico and grew up in a slum in the United States, was diagnosed with childhood diabetes at the age of seven and started injecting herself insulin since she was eight. Her alcoholic father died when she was nine. In college, she was ridiculed for being admitted to college, benefitting from "affirmative action." This girl is Maria Sotomayor (63), the first Hispanic Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, who is a living proof of a rags to riches story.

When the Moon Jae-in administration appointed Kim Dong-yeon as deputy prime minister for economic affairs, his rags-to-riches story became the topic of discussion at the hearing. A lawmaker praised him for "being a symbol of a society where a person from disadvantaged backgrounds can succeed by himself." Listening to that compliment, the deputy prime minister said with humility, "That is an overstatement." But he actually is a self-made man, who was a teenage breadwinner living in an unlicensed old shack. After his father died when he was 11, he went to a commercial high school and worked for a bank after graduation. While working during the day, he went to a college at night and passed both public administration and bar examinations.

Korea stands where it is today because of those who worked hard and put all efforts to make their dreams come true in spite of having disadvantaged backgrounds. But now that we are living in a society where wealth and power are passed down by generation to generation, it is becoming hard to hear rags-to-riches stories these days. Nowadays, people say money makes one's child successful. And there is a study to prove it. According to a thesis published by Seoul National University economics professor Joo Byung-ki and doctoral student Oh Sung-jae, the number of people who moved up the social strata has been halved in the past 13 years. An index developed by the research team found that father's academic backgrounds and occupation determine the opportunities available for their children. The same phenomenon is also found in the United States and Italy.

Increasing the number of people moving up the social strata is directly related to the future of a country. This is because young people would not find hope in a society where social mobility is not possible. We cannot just get angry and feel sorry for ourselves. Let's go back to the story of Sotomayor, who set a new milestone in U.S. history. She defines success as "not stopping because you are afraid," adding that the yardstick for success should not be rise of social status but how far you have come from the start line.