World Economy

Economic Troubles Hit Japan’s Single-Parent Families

Economic Troubles Hit  Japan’s Single-Parent Families Economic Troubles Hit  Japan’s Single-Parent Families

Yumi, a 30-year-old working mother with two daughters, takes a calculator whenever she goes shopping. Every yen counts when your budget for a week’s groceries is about $24.

Yumi shops at discount markets and looks for sales, but last month she went to City Hall and asked for help. Officials there introduced her to Food Bank Yamanashi, which provides rice, curry, instant ramen, cookies and other non-perishables once a week. She is delighted when the packages also include fresh vegetables, Yahoo reported.

Yumi, however, hasn’t said anything to her husband; she’s worried that he will be furious if he finds out his family is accepting charity. And she fears her children will be discriminated against in school or targeted for bullying if word gets out.

“That’s how it is in Japan. If you have holes in your clothes that aren’t fixed, the other kids will say, ‘What’s the matter? Are you so poor you can’t get new clothes?’” said Yumi, who asked that her family name not be disclosed to protect her children. “It’s considered shameful to be poor, like you aren’t trying hard enough.”

Though Japan has the world’s third-largest economy, with per capita income of more than $37,000, many here struggle to make ends meet. For the fifth time in seven years, Japan has technically entered a recession, data released last month showed.

That’s grim news for workers and businesses, and a growing number of children.

Japan’s Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry said last year that 16% of children lived in impoverished households, defined as those with no more than about $9,900 in disposable income a year.

 Poverty High

The problem is particularly severe for single-parent families: 54.6% of such households—most headed by women—live in poverty, government statistics show. That’s one of the highest such rates in the developed world, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Kyoko Meguri, spokeswoman for the nonprofit group Kids’ Door, which offers educational support to children living in dire circumstances, said Japan has 1.4 million families headed by single women and 223,000 by single men. Households with a net income of about $10,500 a year are eligible for government aid of $341 a month, with $40 extra for a second child and $24 for a third.

“It’s not nearly enough. The costs of taking care of a child don’t decrease if you have more of them,” said Meguri, whose group is lobbying for an increase in the child support allowance.

In June 2013, a law was passed to fight child poverty. It includes putting more social workers in schools and providing more free after-school activities for struggling students.

 Poor Work Security

Many of Japan’s worst off are what the government acknowledges as “working poor.” As Japan’s long-standing system of lifetime employment in salaried corporate jobs has broken down, more and more workers have so-called non-regular jobs, such as part-time or temporary positions. Government figures for 2014 showed 37% of the workforce was in those jobs—the highest ever—up from 15.3% in 1984.

“There are problems with non-regular employment,” the ministry of health, labor and welfare said in its statistics announcement. “Job security is poor, wages are low, there are not many opportunities to develop skills, and the safety net is insufficient.”


The slide into recession raises fresh questions about the effectiveness of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s economic policies, known as “Abenomics,” intended to jolt Japan out of decades of stagnation. Abenomics calls for large monetary stimulus, increased government spending and policy reforms—including a “womenomics” plan to better integrate women into the workforce, improve day-care options for working mothers and empower them financially.

Abe has said bringing more women into the workforce can boost the nation’s fortunes. But Japan, despite its high-tech economy, has one of the lowest levels of gender equality in the developed world: 101st out of 145 countries assessed in 2015 by the World Economic Forum.