The ranks of college graduates in South Korea deemed “outside the labor force” or neither employed nor unemployed has more than doubled in the past 15 years, government data showed Monday.

South Korean college grads

South Korea news agency Yonhap reported the surge is due to a rise in those who gave up looking for jobs amid a prolonged economic slump inside the country.

College graduates in the limbo-like job category reached 3.35 million in 2015 vs. 1.59 million in 2000, according to data compiled by Statistics Korea. The number represented a rise of 4.7% from a year earlier.

“Companies recruit fewer workers due to lower global demand and deteriorating business environments. College graduates find it increasingly difficult to get the job they hoped for in terms of salary and welfare benefits,” Statistics Korea spokesman Sohn Young-tae told Yonhap. “As a result, some of them have stopped seeking a job or gone to private educational institutes to be better qualified for the job they want.”

At the same time, the number of jobless people with a college diploma has been rising since 2012. The jobless rate among college grads stood at 3.6% last year. The figure was the highest since 2002 when the rate stood at 3.7%.

“In short, one in five economically inactive people of 16 million was a college graduate last year,” the spokesman said.

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