I was a working poor in Japan also…….all the times in my life……
Following the articles of mass media, ‘The Economist’.
Japan’s working poor
Poverty worsens as more Japanese work on non-permanent contracts
THE residents of Kotobuki live not far from the glitzy shops and upscale restaurants of Yokohama, Japan’s second-biggest city, adjoining Tokyo, the capital. Yet Kotobuki is an altogether different world: a squalid district, it is a pit stop for local Japanese on their way to destitution. Men living here in cheap hostels have lost jobs and families. Some survive on casual day work, but many have no work at all. A 250-bed shelter dominates the centre of Kotobuki, part of a public network of around 40 built in the past decade. Though these have helped to take 18,000 people off Japan’s streets, it has been harder to check the creeping poverty that put many of them there in the first place.
Last year, the Japanese government recorded relative poverty rates of 16%—defined as the share of the population living on less than half the national median income. That is the highest on record. Poverty levels have been growing at a rate of 1.3% a year since the mid-1980s. On the same definition, a study by the OECD in 2011 ranked Japan sixth from the bottom among its 34 mostly rich members. Bookshops advertise a slew of bestsellers on how to survive on an annual income of under ¥2m ($16,700), a poverty line below which millions of Japanese now live.
The country has long prided itself on ensuring that none of its citizens falls between the social cracks. Japan’s orderly, slum-free neighbourhoods seem to confirm that. Street crime, even in Kotobuki, is minuscule. Unemployment is below 4%, and jobs are being generated as the prime minister, Shinzo Abe, attempts to boost the economy through monetary easing. Yet the poor quality of new jobs is compounding the problem of the working poor, says Kaori Katada, a sociologist at Hosei University in Tokyo. Since Mr Abe took office in late 2012, the number of irregular workers—often earning less than half the pay of their full-time counterparts with permanent employment contracts—has jumped by over 1.5m. Casual and part-time employees number nearly 20m, almost 40% of the Japanese workforce.
The effects of this shift to irregular work have not always been visible. One reason is parents’ benevolence. Millions of young workers remain living at home, rent-free. But once the older generation that drove Japan’s post-war boom goes, underlying poverty will become more evident, says Ms Katada.
Mr Abe has been pushing Japan’s cash-rich corporations into hiring more people and paying better wages, with some success. In the past few weeks some of the biggest companies have announced pay hikes for elite salaried workers. But people on the margins are losing out even as Japan’s economy recovers. Welfare applications bottomed out at 882,000 in 1995 but have been rising steadily since. Last year they topped 2m for the first time.
Under pressure to limit Japan’s huge public debt, which stands at almost two-and-a half times GDP, the government cut benefits last summer. Tom Gill, an anthropologist and author of “Yokohama Street Life: The Precarious Career of a Japanese Day Labourer”, says that has pushed more people into official poverty. Yokohama is one of many local governments in the red. The men who now crowd its homeless shelter once earned a living on building sites or car production lines, paying national and local taxes. Today, construction at least has picked up again. But it is a much smaller industry than before, and wages are lower. Some men have found work. But most in Kotobuki remain a burden.