Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Imaginary numbers

While the very patriotic among Japanese society entertain me and my Russian diplomat neighbors with glorious songs of conquest and self-sacrifice and mellifluous megaphonic shouting on this Most Special Day in Russo-Japanese Relations--a glance at yestereve's headlines indicates some intrepid newspaper editors have found convincing evidence of a far more pressing threat being posed by--yes, the anti-Koizumi crowd's and my own favorite modern made-up bugaboo--the increasing stratification of incomes.

The Asahi Shimbun and the Yomiuri Shimbun (why these two papers, I wonder?) find the lives of young people in their twenties diverging in alarming ways.

Concern grows over widening income gap
Asahi Shimbun

August 9, 2006 - The disparity in incomes among employees in the same age groups continues to widen due to the increasing use of nonpermanent staff and the introduction of performance-based wage systems, a government report said Tuesday.

In its white paper on labor and economy, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare said that more than 20 percent of workers in their 20s earn less than 1.5 million yen annually.

But the number of those drawing 5 million yen or more in the same age group is rising. The report said the disparity in monthly income among permanent and nonpermanent workers in their late 40s was now as much as 300,000 yen.

The white paper, approved Tuesday at a Cabinet meeting, called for measures to prevent the income gap from becoming a permanent feature of life in corporate Japan.

Aunty Em, Aunty Em, it's a Twister! Oh, the Humanity! Für dich leben! Für dich sterben! Alma!


Seriously, one has to love the Yomiuri's graphic illustration of the transformation of the pyramid of monthly salaries over time, particularly the sad, shaggy-haired generic youth dolorously studying his lonesome 1000 yen bill.

Courtesy: Yomiuri Shimbun

Now the report finds that "over the past decade" the percentage of those in their twenties earning less than 1.5 milion yen a year has grown from 15.3% of the population to 21.8% of the population. Those earning more than 5 million a year has soared from 2.9% of the population to 3.2% (Yes, I am being sarcastic here).

Meanwhile the percentage of those earning in between 1.5 million and 4.99 million has shrunk (Those saying "Well, duh!" at this point are in real danger of receiving a reprimand!)

The growth of the percentage of those employed in temporary or part-time work is sobering.

At the beginning of the decade, only 10.7% of persons in the 20 to 24 year-old age cohort were in temporary positions. At the end of the decade, the number was 31.8%.

For those in the 25 to 29 year-old cohort, the shift was from 11.6% at the beginning of the decade to 22.7% at the end of the decade.

But then, it kind of matters what you mean by "decade", doesn't it?

Can we have a closeup of the graph again? Thank you.

Whoa Nellie! What's this we have there now here? The decade in question takes 1992 and 2002 as the base years?

Stacking the deck are we not--just a little?

Picking as a starting year a year when the crappy remuneration practices of the bubble years (when everyone could get paid for doing anything) had yet not beem wrung from the system by the 1994-5 crises--and taking as the terminal year 2002, when the economy hit rock bottom?

Over the past three years I have watched the hourly wage for restaurant waiting jobs soar from 800 yen an hour to 1100 yen an hour. The Jonathan's near my office now has an easel it puts out on the sidewalk every lunchtime, advertising waiting jobs like they were prix fixe menu items. Over the same period of time I have seen the name tags on the people working the cash registers in this neighborhood fall from two kanji to one--and I know damn well their is no such thing as a "retail service sector" visa program.

Before we loose the dogs of taisaku (To every bureaucrat, a mondai. To every mondai, a taisaku) let us see if these ominous figures are still quite so impressive four years from now, shall we?

1 comment:

Etienne said...

The NBER has an interesting paper on top income inequality in Japan over the long term (1885-2002). It shows that the bubble had a relatively low impact on wage income concentration and that the equalizing effect of the institutions created in the immediate post-war period was not really reversed. As for the impact of the Koizumi reforms on income inequality, the jury is still out.