Poverty in Japan: An Unseen Problem

Poverty-in-Japan

While Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is riding a wave of popularity for his policies for economic recovery, many still question whether “Abenomics” could translate to paying the bills especially for those living below the poverty line.

Poverty in Japan is a serious, but almost invisible, problem. In 2007, almost one in six Japanese, or 20 million people, lived in poverty. Figures have not changed much, and Japan sits in sixth place in the OECD’s rankings—just ahead of the United States. A country’s poverty rate is measured by the proportion of people living on less than half of the national median income.

Abe’s push to revive Japan’s stagnant economy has called for a boost in spending on public works and business incentives, a shoring up of finances, cuts to welfare benefits and an increase in consumption tax to 8 percent from 5 percent. But the effect of these policies is hardly felt for families living in poverty in Japan.

“The Abe administration’s stance is more about fixing things, including poverty, with a trickle-down effect from overall economic growth,” said Takashi Oshio, a professor at Hitotsubashi University specializing in social security. “There’s little political capital spent on issues like alleviating child poverty. It doesn’t garner votes.”

Child poverty in working, single-parent households stood at a staggering 50 percent, making Japan the only egalitarian society where having a job does not reduce the poverty rate for that group.

Such is the case for Ririko Saito, a mother single-handedly raising her 11-year-old daughter. Saito works part-time caring for the elderly in a Tokyo hospital and depends on welfare. Her salary barely makes ends meet, and she has a hard time paying utility bills.

“ffI was going to take care of it as soon as I got my paycheck in a few days,” Saito said, when she told of how she and her daughter spent last Christmas Eve without water. “I figured they wouldn’t be so callous to cut us off at that time of the year. I figured wrong.”

By Maesie Bertumen

Image: “Modernity, Traditions and poverty” by 1Q78/Flickr

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