Single-mother households badly hit by slump

by Keiji Hirano

Kyodo News

The economic slump has severely hit single-mother households because many of these women work as nonregular employees, the Japan Federation of Bar Associations reported at a recent symposium.

In another indication of the hardships such households face, a survey by a nonprofit organization that supports children who have lost one or both parents showed that 9 percent of high school students who receive scholarships from the group after losing their fathers have to forgo higher education due to financial difficulties.

The federation said the average annual income of single-mother households is ¥2.13 million, or 38 percent of the national average. This means such households with an average 3.3 family members must live on ¥54,000 per member per month.

“Recent news reports on the issue of poverty focus mainly on male temporary workers who have lost their jobs, without showing much interest in the poverty suffered by women,” the lawyers’ group said in its report.

At a panel discussion, Chieko Akaishi, a director of Single Mothers’ Forum, said, “Around 20 years ago, single mothers could take on relatively steady jobs as permanent employees at small companies or as nonclerical public servants, such as school cooks, although their wages were not so high.

“However, deregulation and privatization have led schools, for example, to outsource catering” and this has made the labor situation for single mothers less stable, she said. “Single mothers do not live on the street, as they have children, but poverty among them is becoming more deeply entrenched.”

The shift in the government’s support policy for single-mother households, in which the state helps with their self-reliance efforts through vocational training rather than through providing child-care allowance, was questioned at the symposium.

“While the government urges single mothers to improve their value as workers, it does not pay much attention to conditions in the labor market,” said Aya Abe, a researcher at the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research.

She added that as long as the government remains reluctant to address labor market conditions and overlooks the problem of those who drop out of the market, nothing will happen. “When conditions in the labor market are worsening, and with companies relying on nonregular workers, it is not enough just to support job placements (for single mothers),” she told the audience of some 200.

Wrapping up the discussion, Akaishi called for authorities to take measures to support single mothers in step with vocational training and provision of “life security.”

Meanwhile, Toshihiko Kudo, executive board member of the Tokyo-based NPO Ashinaga (Daddy Long Legs), which provides scholarships to orphans, was also critical of the state’s policy, saying in an interview, “Even if single mothers go through vocational training, it is very difficult for them to find jobs, particularly in rural regions.”

An Ashinaga survey on widows said that as of December, 9 percent of their high school-age children gave up on higher education due to economic difficulties, up from 6.8 percent in February last year.

The NPO presented the voices of high school students from single-mother households in its report, which included comments such as: “I wanted to go on to higher education, but I have decided to find a job to support my mother, who has raised me by herself,” and “I wanted to attend cram school to improve my academic capabilities so I could get a scholarship, but I could not do so because my family does not have enough money.”

The survey also showed 58.9 percent of the widows worked on an irregular basis as of December. Their average annual earnings stood at ¥1.346 million in 2007.

To support themselves, 32.9 percent of the single mothers go to work even when they feel sick, with some expressing concerns, such as, “What will happen to my children if I fall ill?” according to the survey.

“While education is the key to breaking the cycle of poverty, children who have lost parents have given up hopes of advancing to higher education, including college,” Kudo said. “We need to take appropriate measures immediately in order to support them.”

At the federation’s symposium, Abe said, “It is necessary to guarantee the livelihood of children, regardless of whom they live with — a mother, a father, a grandparent — and regardless of their nationality.”