Among the advanced economies, Japan has continuously ranked at or near the top in terms of the percentage of population who continue to work beyond the retirement age. Some of these individuals actually want to work; but for most, it's a choice between continuing to toil or facing the prospect of not-so-genteel poverty.
The term coined for this encroaching phenomenon is rogo-resu, a portmanteau combining rogo (retirement or one's remaining years) with the English suffix -less. The word appears to have made its first appearance in an Asahi Shimbun article dated Nov 2, 2019, in which editorial writer Hiroki Manabe warned, "Japan is likely to become a society without a comfortable retirement age."
Shukan Jitsuwa (March 16) reports that should this situation come to pass, the implications are terrifying: In the not too distant future, perhaps one out of every two seniors will need to keep working up to the time they are no longer physically or mentally able to work.
According to data by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, the number of working persons above age 65 has increasing year on year for 18 consecutive years. In 2021 some 60,000 new seniors joined the ranks, boosting the nationwide total to approximately 9.09 million. In 2021 the ratio of working people in the 65 to 69 years of age bracket surpassed the 50% mark, with 50.3% in that age group still working.
Even among those in the next higher age bracket of 70 to 74 years, about one out of three people still work.
How did this state of affairs come about? An analyst at a think tank explains to the magazine, "During the postwar period of rapid economic growth, Japan became the world's second largest economy, and when workers reached the compulsory retirement age of 60 it was assumed they'd enjoy their golden years, traveling and pursing their interests.
"But then the economic bubble collapsed in the 1990s, and later came the so-called 'Lehman Shock' of 2008, which prolonged the deflationary spiral. With the recent devaluation of the yen currency and resulting rise in energy prices, people's dreams for a comfortable retirement have been crushed," he said morosely.
According to a survey of older workers by Rengo, the Japanese Trade Union Federation, in 2019, 46.2% of the respondents gave their rationale for continuing to work as "to maintain health." This was followed by "raising quality of living" (33.9%) and "because a person lives to work" (28.8%). But the most frequently stated reply (multiple replies were given), voiced by 77.0%, was "to enhance the quality of life."
The aforementioned analyst recalled the statement by the Financial Services Agency in 2019, which stated that an average elderly couple will need at least 20 million yen in savings to fund a 30-year post-retirement life. But in 2022, 20.8% of households where the main breadwinner was age 60 and above had zero savings. And that figure is rising -- up by 2% over the year before.
A business analyst told the magazine that over 70% of the temporary or part-time workers at convenience stores and supermarkets, security guards, custodial workers, care providers, workers at call centers and so on are over 65.
With shortage of workers in some fields, some companies have initiated programs to retain older workers with specialized skills. To name one example, the re-employment system adopted by VFR, a Tokyo-based drone manufacturer, allows workers to continue their careers up to age 75.
Taxi firms also hire the elderly in growing numbers. As of March 2022, about 50,000 drivers were believed to be in the 70 to 74 age bracket, and another 20,000 drivers, or 8% of the total force, age 75 or older.
"As drivers' average age keeps increasing, so are the number of accidents they're involved in, both minor and serious," a concerned driver over age 70 admitted to Shukan Jitsuwa.
About one care provider in four at homes or in institutions is said to be over age 60, and cases can even be found where women in their 80s are visited by care providers who are also in their 80s, raising concerns that elderly workers risk injuries while changing diapers or caring for their loved ones
"The managers at apartments with a large number of elderly residents find themselves having to deal with constant complaints or becoming entangled in disputes between the residents," a business analyst tells the magazine. "Many of them can't deal with the stress and quit after a short time."
Post-retirement life does not appear at all optimistic, the article concludes.© Japan Today