“Corona unemployment” is already upon us, “Spa! (April 7) fears. It will get worse before it gets better – barring a sudden and unforeseen (though, to give optimism its due, not impossible) breakthrough.
“I saw this coming in February,” a 32-year-old man who worked in a record store tells the magazine. “Still, when you’re actually given notice, it’s a shock.” Record sales depended in large part on live performances the store sponsored. With those on hold in deference to COVID-19, sales plunged. Staff was pared to the bone.
Why not seek a silver lining? “It’s a good chance to get into music,” he says. Step one: a rap video he made and posted on YouTube. Step two? We’ll see.
“Kazuko Sakai” (a pseudonym) worked part-time at a “leisure facility.” She’s in her 20s. Her contract ran until mid-March. The facility closed – temporarily but indefinitely. There was no business. Sakai for a time was given cleaning and gardening chores. Then the end came. She would have to leave the company dorm. Would she be rehired? Would she be compensated? No one she asked seemed to know. Sakai and the other part-timers were employed not by the facility itself but by a dispatch agency. All the facility had to say to the workers was that their services were no longer needed for the time being.
A special government program offers subsidies – conditionally. The program deals not with workers but with employers. It provides 8,330 yen per day per laid-off worker – but to the employer, which must continue paying the worker’s full salary, making up the difference out of its own pocket. Did Sakai’s employer register? Does it meet the conditions? Is Sakai eligible? She doesn’t know.
She’s hardly alone. Japan’s service sector, Spa! reports, accounts for some 70 percent of the national GDP. And service sector employment is overwhelmingly part-time –vulnerable, therefore, to any crisis that comes up. This one is dreadful.
Pity the poor job-seeker, in times like these. Ironically, before the virus hit the climate was favorable. It was a seller’s market. Employers were buying. They needed personnel. The sinking birth rate translates into staff shortages. Everyone knows about the “lost generation” of the 1990s and 2000s, which owing to recession ran into a deep hiring freeze and settled for low-paying, no-future part-time jobs for want of anything better. Now these people are in their 40s and 50s. Unable in many cases to marry for lack of money, they face a lonely and poverty-stricken old age.
The economy recovered at last, and the current generation of university graduates faced better prospects. Will COVID-19 dash them?
Shiori Teranaka, 21, had her future pretty much settled. A third-year IT student, she had a non-binding but apparently solid agreement with a tech firm. Suddenly the matter was put on hold. The company is hardly present physically; everyone is working remotely; coping with the present takes precedence over future hiring. Teranaka says she understands the situation and doesn’t blame anyone, but the uncertainty is painful, and there’s no end in sight.
Spa! leaves us with a very uncomfortable question: “Are we in for yet another hiring ice age?”© Japan Today