Sawako Yoshimura (a pseudonym, like all the names in this story) is a 37-year-old housewife in Okayama Prefecture who, last year, decided to take a part-time job to help pay off the family’s home loan. Anything would do, as long as working hours could be structured around the times she’d need to be available for her two young children.
She thought it would be easy. It used to be. It no longer is, reports Josei Jishin (May 22). Because now it’s no longer just mothers looking for part-time, unskilled, low-paid work. Applicants come from all sectors of the population, victims of a chronically sputtering economy in which full-time “regular” employment is increasingly scarce.
Yoshimura combed the job-listing magazines and sent out 20-odd applications. That netted her 10 interviews – not bad, but the interviews were dead ends. She’d go to find herself up against a dozen applicants for a single opening, not mothers like herself but young women and middle-aged men free to work all hours. She didn’t have a chance. A drugstore, a cleaning establishment and a supermarket food court all turned her down. A mother with kids is not, in their eyes, a fully committed employee.
The government’s Cabinet Office in February released a survey showing how tight the part-time labor market has become. As of October-December 2011, 18.34 million people – up 360,000 from the previous year – were employed either on time-specific contracts or as temp workers sent to companies by labor dispatch firms. They are crowding out the part-time working housewife-mother of yesteryear.
Eiko Kato, 44, was laid off late last year by a food processing plant near her home in Ibaraki Prefecture. She’d been working on the assembly line four days a week. She and others were displaced, she says, by 30 trainees from Pakistan and Bangladesh – people willing or forced to work longer hours for less pay than the locals. Kato has three children in school. She can’t afford to be unemployed. She frequented the government employment agency Hello Work, and pressed acquaintances who might have connections. Luckily – or so she thought – one came through for her, and got her a job at a restaurant in a neighboring town. The trouble was the 20-km commute. Soaring gas prices cut into her wages to such an extent that the job is hardly worthwhile. But out of consideration for her connection, she feels she can’t quit.
Kazumi Yamazaki, 50, worked for a machine parts manufacturer until two years ago, when, under pressure from the high yen, the company shifted production to Thailand. Yamazaki and more than 100 others lost their jobs. The company offered to place them with an affiliated factory – two hours away, an impossible distance for a working mother. The best Yamazaki has been able to find since is occasional work weeding vacant lots, which pays, when there is work, 6,000 yen a day.
Such is the nature of creeping poverty in the world’s third largest economy and, by most commonly accepted measures, one of its richest countries.© Japan Today