Friday, May 30, 2014

Birthrate plummets as 19.7 million Japanese people live in poverty • Shiho Fukada's "Japan's Disposable Workers"

 Photojournalist Shiho Fukada's investigation of Japan's working poor:
"Japan's Poor, Homeless, Outcasted and Forgotten Workers"
(See Fukada's completed 3-part documentary at Media Storm:
"Overworked to Suicide," "Net Cafe Refugees," and "Dumping Ground."
A fourth video report, "Paid to Flirt," is up at the Pulitzer Center.  

While Japanese policymakers wring their hands over the nation's plummeting birthrate, most overlook the obvious cause: many women in Japan can no longer afford to have children...

Japan is no longer a middle-class society. (Was it ever?) Now it ranks tenth among nations in income inequality:
Japan has a saying “ichioku-sohchu-ryu” which translates to “a nation of middle-class people.” However, in the past few decades, they’ve seen the middle-class shrinking at twice the average rate of other OECD countries. Since 1980, incomes have dropped for the lower classes while they’ve risen for those in the higher classes.

And this problem is exacerbated by the lack of employment security. During Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s term (2001-2006), the number of people working regular jobs dropped by 1.9 million while numbers of those in temporary positions rose by 3.3 million. Since the middle-class started disappearing, there’s been a reported increase in depression, domestic violence and suicide – which indicates the toll the economy has taken on the people.
Moreover, while PM Abe's massive ("Godzilla-sized") quantitative easing has given a short-term boost to the Nikkei, thereby enriching stock market players, this government largesse has not benefitted the rest of the nation: Japan has the highest poverty rate among the world's developed nations.
Currently, Japanese people in and under the poverty line – those defined as having temporary, part-time and non-regular jobs — comprised 38 percent of the current population, a huge 19.7 million souls. And while Abe has promised to help revive economy, it doesn’t necessarily translate to removing poverty altogether.

According to Takashi Oshio, professor at Hitosubashi University who specializes in social security, “The Abe administration’s stance is more about fixing things, including poverty, with a trickle-down effect from overall economic growth.” He added, “There’s little political capital spent on issues like alleviating child poverty. It doesn’t garner votes.” But apart from that, the real problem lies in the fact that as Abe’s economic recovery relies on heavy consumer spending and with more people affected by poverty, lesser would be able to practice purchasing power...

As such, many economists suggest that the only way to address poverty is to fix wealth distribution in terms of benefits and taxes.
This young Japanese worker lives in an internet cafe because he cannot afford rent. 
Yesterday Bloomberg reported on Japan's growing caste of socioeconomically marginalized Japanese people (especially women) who are unable to buy homes and have children because of deepening structural impoverishment: the lines are drawn between those with full-time jobs and a ballooning underclass of 20 million temporary workers. The latter, according to the government, now make up almost 40 percent of the workforce and get paid 38 percent less.

“It’s Japan’s biggest problem,” said Yoshio Higuchi, a professor of economics at Tokyo’s Keio University and head of a government panel on labor market reform.

A dearth of regular jobs is the source of so many of Japan’s troubles, he said, ticking them off on his fingers: deflation, higher poverty rates, lower economic productivity, even depressed birthrates...

“Abe’s proposals basically say, ‘We’re going to enable workers to work at shitty jobs with shitty pay for as long as they want,’” said Jeff Kingston, head of Asian Studies at Temple University’s Tokyo campus.

There are 1.1 million fewer full-timers today than when the prime minister took over in December 2012, according to Japan’s official statistics bureau. Temps and part-timers -- who often work 40 hours a week -- account for all the jobs growth in the past five years. Sixty percent of employment offers in March were for temporary positions.

The rise of these jobs -- to a record 38.2 percent of workers in February -- is why Japan is the only developed country where average pay has consistently fallen, dropping 15 percent since 1997. And in Japan, where the labor market is less fluid than in the U.S., temp work isn’t usually a stepping a stone to something better. It’s a lifelong condition.

Starting in 1939,  the Japanese government asked people to restrict themselves 
with the "Land of the Rising Sun lunchbox" to conserve food supplies.
By the end of 1943 the declining ration was causing serious malnutrition among the population, 
and  plain rice bentos were considered luxuries.
Today this symbol of wartime and postwar hardship is a typical  lunch for the working poor. 

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