Two dollars a day is the internationally accepted poverty line. Below it, life is an unremitting, often losing struggle for mere survival.
By that standard, earnings of 2 million yen or less a year don’t really qualify as poverty, but in Japan, still a major economy despite its recent string of misfortunes, it represents life in a very slow lane, and according to Weekly Playboy (July 18), more than one young man in five (21.2%) is stuck there.
The magazine surveyed 1,000 men in their 20s concerning their incomes, their savings, and what (if anything) they spend their money on. Armed with this data, it sketches a portrait of a generation – incomplete, obviously, but revealing all the same. If the findings are accurate, almost exactly half (50.8%) of male Japanese in their 20s earn less than 4 million yen a year.
Asked if their earnings are inadequate, 67.7% say very much so. Add to that the 26.5% who say rather so, and you get more than 90% of the generation in its marriageable prime mired in financial straits. By way of contrast, only 6 of the 1,000 (0.6%) claim to be financially comfortable.
Savings? None, say 11.6%; 100,000 yen or less, say 19.5%. A quarter (24%) spend less than 10,000 yen a month; half (49.6%) spend less than 20,000 yen. This bodes ill for an economy in recession – if the exuberance of youth is powerless to spark consumption, what can spark it? Nothing can, and nothing is. Recession is a vicious circle.
To the extent that saving is possible on the meager pay from the unrewarding jobs that more and more young people must settle for nowadays, 51.8% say they put money aside for a vague “whatever comes up.” 33.2% save for hobbies; 30.7% for electronic equipment; 21.2% for old age; 17.5% for a house; 15.7% for marriage. Note how far behind “saving for old age” “saving for marriage” ranks. Young people today are old before they’ve had a chance to be young.
It takes all kinds. Weekly Playboy offers some thumbnail sketches. One is of a 27-year-old TV station executive who’s managed to save far more than anyone else profiled here – 8 million yen. “Ever since I was small I liked saving money,” he says. By the time he graduated from college he had 3 million yen in the bank – a rare feat. Then he started earning real money – “and my saving rate actually went down,” he says. In his line of work one needs to keep up appearances, which is unfortunate because otherwise, “I want nothing” – except to save. “I’d hoped to have 10 million yen by now.”
Then there’s the mostly unemployed comedian, also 27, earning 1.5 million yen a year and saving nothing. Which is fine with him. “When we have enough money my girlfriend and I plan to get married,” he says – “but I don’t want to get married, so I’ve no incentive to save.”
A 26-year-old fashion company executive has saved 1 million yen despite a low salary and no bonuses. He does have an incentive to save – he wants his kids, when he has them, to attend private schools. Why? “My girlfriend teaches at a public school, and she says the kids are absolutely rotten.”
Meanwhile, what do young women think of men pleading poverty? Weekly Playboy asks a few, and finds them more or less used to the situation by now. “To put it bluntly,” says one, “I don’t expect much, financially speaking, from men of my generation.” It’s not their fault, she hastens to add when accused of being unkind. “In this recession, nobody has very much.”© Japan Today