Over 16 percent of children in Japan were living below the poverty line in 2012, the highest level on record and 0.6 percentage point higher than was found by the previous survey in 2009, according to the welfare ministry.
Its national livelihood survey also found that 51.2 percent of elderly people requiring nursing care shared households with similarly aged caregivers — 65 or older — in 2013.
The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare attributed the record child poverty levels to “declines in incomes of households with children in the economy still experiencing deflation.”
The survey was released Tuesday ahead of a Cabinet decision expected later this month on an outline plan to address child poverty. The research underscores the need for significant intervention.
For the first time since the inaugural survey in 1985, the child poverty rate — that is, children under 18 in households living on less than half the national median income — surpassed the nationwide poverty rate.
Over 16 percent of all people were living in poverty, the so-called relative poverty rate, up 0.1 point from the last study.
“The research results show poverty is hitting children harder,” said Ryoichi Yamano, a professor of child welfare at Chiba Meitoku College. “The primary cause is a decline in parental income,” he said. To address the problem, the government, he said, should step up funding for children, including measures to provide low-cost education.
Among the 34 member countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development — mostly advanced economies, including Japan — the relative and child poverty rates averaged 11.3 and 13.3 percent, respectively, in 2010.
The welfare ministry noted there were around 100,000 more single-mother households than in 2010.
“More than 40 percent of working mothers in mother-and-child households have nonregular jobs. An increase in such households was reflected (in the data),” a ministry official said.
The poverty ratio jumps to 54.6 percent if data are limited to people in single-adult households with children.
Household incomes averaged ¥5,372,000, down 2 percent, according to the survey. The income decline was a sharper 3.4 percent among households with children.
A record high 11,614,000 households, or 23.2 percent of the total, were “elderly” — meaning only people aged 65 or older were living under the same roof, or with youngsters below 18.
The ministry conducted the survey in June-July 2013. Data concerning household composition were based on replies from around 235,000 households, while income statistics were drawn from feedback from some 27,000 households.
While the government’s upcoming draft plan on child poverty is expected to step up support for schoolchildren, it will also outline ways to help parents become financially self-reliant. However, it is believed to cite no specific numerical targets in implementing policy measures, raising concern about its effectiveness in addressing the critical issue.
The survey also shed light on the more severe financial predicament facing child-rearing generations compared with the elderly.
Single-mother households with minors earned an average ¥2,434,000 in 2012, compared with the national average of ¥5,372,000.
Elderly households earned ¥3,091,000, up ¥100,000 from more than five years earlier, while households with children under the age of 18 made ¥6,732,000, down roughly ¥180,000.
Savings as of June 2013 averaged ¥2,638,000 in single-mother households — just one-fifth of the ¥12,681,000 tucked away by elderly households. Households with children had ¥7,067,000 in savings.
As much as 36.5 percent of mother-and-child households said they had no savings, while 11.6 percent of elderly households said they had ¥30 million or more.
In terms of their daily needs, and ability to get by, 54.3 percent of elderly households said they felt “very hard-pressed” or “somewhat hard-pressed,” compared with 65.9 percent of households with children and 84.8 percent of single-mother households.