North Koreans wait to cross part of the Yalu River at a makeshift pontoon dock near Sinuiju, across the Yalu River from Dandong, China's largest border city with North Korea. North Korea's economy is growing slightly despite sanctions and relative isolation. File Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI | License Photo
SEOUL, Sept. 29 (UPI) -- North Korea's average income is growing despite sanctions and stalled economic reform, according to a South Korean think tank.
The country's GDP per capita for 2015 is now estimated to be $1,013, according to the Hyundai Research Institute on Thursday.
That figure is roughly equivalent to the average South Korean income in the mid- to late 1970s.
In 2013, North Korea's per capita GDP was $854, then rose to $930 in 2014.
North Korea's economy has been improving incrementally since the 2000s, when former leader Kim Jong Il called for new reforms that would bring significant changes to the economy's centralized planning system.
But the lack of substantial reform has also left North Korea's economy stuck at underdeveloped levels, according to the report.
The data provides a remarkable contrast to the wealthier South, where GDP per capita for 2015 is estimated to be $27,195.
North Korea's estimated per capita GDP for 2015 is less than 4 percent of the South's, and is well below China at $7,990, Vietnam at $2,088, and Laos at $1,779, according to the analysis.
Hyundai Research institute's senior researcher Kim Cheon-gu said, "At present it would be difficult for North Korea's economy to stand alone," according to local news service Newsis.
In order for the economy to grow, the country needs social overhead capital, energy, resource development and a proper logistics network, Kim said.
The vast majority of North Korea's population copes with poverty, but North Korea's leadership has been able to live in relative luxury due to various means of procuring earnings from abroad.
Those earnings are made possible by confidential branches of the regime like Office 39, which engages in illicit economic activities and manages slush funds of the Korean Workers' Party.
On Thursday Seoul's unification ministry said Room or Office 39 incorporated Office 38, which was used by the former Kim Jong Il as his personal safe deposit, according to News 1.
Office 38 was shut down after Kim Jong Un assumed power in 2012, according to Seoul.