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Editorial: Japan’s young people need more hope for future

  • January 9, 2017
  • , The Mainichi
  • English Press

“Burakku Baito,” (Exploitative part-time jobs) a book about students forced to work part-time under harsh conditions, introduces a story about a university student who was asked to manage a restaurant kitchen on his own without even being taught how to prepare the food. He referred to the restaurant chain’s instruction manual but had no idea what to do.


He later searched for relevant information on the internet. On Yahoo! Chiebukuro, a website in which people ask questions and seek answers from the public, he found that someone else had had a similar experience.


At the restaurant chain, students were forced to work part-time late at night for many days during the summer vacation. There were even students who became mentally ill because of the long hours.


Numerous students have had to continue working under such harsh conditions because they find it hard to earn enough money for their living expenses. Young full-time employees who manage such workplaces are also extremely busy, and they sometimes have no choice but to sleep in their cars in restaurant parking lots.


Companies like this restaurant chain operator do not treat young workers as ordinary people, and thoroughly reduce personnel costs at the expense of working conditions.


Japan’s student loan system, which supports students who face financial difficulties, is inadequate. A growing number of students rely on student loans because household incomes are declining while university tuition fees are increasing. One out of every two university students is said to be using the student loan system.


Many recipients of student loans face difficulties repaying their debts if they cannot find full-time jobs after graduation. In fiscal 2014, some 173,000 people fell three or more months behind on the repayment of student loans provided by the government-funded Japan Student Services Organization. Those who have become unable to repay student loans can end up going bankrupt and be forced to start from scratch. But these people are better off than some others, one lawyer well versed in the issue of multiple debts told the Mainichi Shimbun. The lawyer is often consulted by students who say they do not want to go bankrupt if it means their parents will be asked to repay their loans on their behalf.


Beginning in fiscal 2018, university students from low-income families will be entitled to student grants. Specifically, 20,000 yen to 40,000 yen in monthly grants will be provided to some 20,000 students in each grade. It is a step forward but still insufficient.


Students who live at care homes due to abuse by their parents and other such reasons often have difficulties in advancing to higher education and finding jobs. Approximately 30,000 children aged up to 18 are living at some 600 such facilities across the country.


According to a liaison council for care homes, only around 20 percent of children who live in such facilities advance to universities or vocational schools — far below the national average of nearly 80 percent. Many of these children give up on receiving higher education even if they want it.


The ratio of students who advance to higher education after leaving such facilities but drop out is also reportedly high. The burden of tuition fees and living expenses is heavy and they have difficulties working part-time to earn enough money to cover these expenses while studying.


Moreover, those who leave such care homes tend to choose workplaces that have dormitories instead of places that are right for them because they have difficulties finding guarantors for apartment rental agreements. Many of them then quit their jobs after finding out that the jobs do not suit them.


Yuzuriha, a facility that supports the livelihoods and education of students who cannot live with their families, is annually consulted by about 300 people including those who have left care homes. An official at the facility admits that some of those who have left such homes have ended up becoming homeless or even taking their own lives after facing financial difficulties and becoming unable to continue renting their homes.


Young people find it increasingly difficult to paint visions for the future because the income gap is widening — a trend that eventually destabilizes society.


Some may recall the situation during the U.S. presidential election last year. Many middle-class citizens in the United States who have been left behind in globalization have seen their incomes decrease and now find it increasingly difficult to ensure their children can go to university, even if both they and their spouses are working. Children have difficulties finding well-paid jobs even if they graduate from university. And a growing number of university graduates in the country have become unable to repay their student loans.


Numerous former white middle-class citizens, who yearned for change, apparently voted for Donald Trump, who repeated radical remarks during his presidential campaign.


In the Democratic Party’s contest to select a presidential nominee, young people enthusiastically supported Bernie Sanders, who insisted that tuition fees for public universities be made free. The presidential election demonstrated that the American Dream has faded, while highlighting a division in U.S. public opinion.


In European countries, unemployment rates remain high — around 10 percent in Italy and France. In many countries in the region, unemployment rates among young people are over twice their national averages.


It has been pointed out that ultra-rightists and populists are gaining growing support in Europe because middle-class and lower-class citizens have a sense of stagnation and distrust in politics resulting from the high unemployment rates among youths.


The unemployment rate in Japan remains relatively low, at about 3 percent. However, this does not mean that Japan’s employment situation is stable, as the number of part-time and temporary workers has increased.


Amid such circumstances, moves to expose companies that force students to work part-time under harsh conditions and urge employers to improve working conditions are gaining momentum. Some young people are enthusiastically engaged in NPO activities with the aim of changing society.

A society in which young people are forced to give up on their dreams and have no chance to engage in challenges has no future.


Jan. 9 is Coming-of-Age Day, a national holiday. It is a good opportunity to consider how to make Japan a country where youths can have hope in becoming adults. And this is not an issue that only politicians should work on.


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