NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


April 23, 2010

After years of economic stagnation and widening income disparities, Japan is belatedly waking up to the fact that it has a large and growing number of poor people, says the New York Times.  The Labor Ministry's disclosure in October that almost one in six Japanese, or 20 million people, lived in poverty in 2007 stunned the nation and ignited a debate over possible remedies that has raged ever since. 

For example: 

  • Following an internationally recognized formula, the ministry set the poverty line at about $22,000 a year for a family of four, half of Japan's median household income.
  • Researchers estimate that Japan's poverty rate has doubled since the nation's real estate and stock markets collapsed in the early 1990s, ushering in two decades of income stagnation and decline.
  • Many Japanese, who cling to the popular myth that their nation is uniformly middle class, were further shocked to see that Japan's poverty rate, at 15.7 percent, was close to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development's figure of 17.1 percent in the United States.  

But perhaps just as surprising was the government's admission that it had been keeping poverty statistics secretly since 1998 while denying there was a problem, despite occasional anecdotal evidence to the contrary.  That ended when a left-leaning government led by Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama replaced the long-governing Liberal Democratic Party last summer with a pledge to force Japan's legendarily secretive bureaucrats to be more open, particularly about social problems, government officials and poverty experts said. 

"The government knew about the poverty problem, but was hiding it," said Makoto Yuasa, head of the nonprofit Antipoverty Network.  "It was afraid to face reality." 

Source: Martin Fackler, "Japan Tries to Face Up to Growing Poverty Problem," New York Times, April 22, 2010. 

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