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Political leaders can mitigate the country’s record-high jobless rate and help solve other important national problems by generating citizens’ power in the field of grassroots businesses, according to the president of the Japanese Workers’ Cooperative Union.

Yuzo Nagato, 52, said grassroots businesses, such as nonprofit organizations that provide community-oriented nursing-care services, are crucial to revitalizing the economy and elevating social welfare standards.

Pointing to the government’s failure to create jobs with so-called pump-priming expenditures for public works projects, he said, “The (conventional) system to dole out subsidies has collapsed. We should shift our focus (from public works projects) to grassroots business.”

As many firms are undergoing large-scale restructuring in the name of improving efficiency, Japan’s employment market remains tight. The latest statistics show the jobless rate stood at 4.8 percent in April, just under the postwar record of 4.9 percent set the previous month.

Nagato said workers’ cooperatives — nonprofit entities that provide various public services — can help alleviate unemployment and help solve other problems.

Although the government cannot expect tax revenues from their activities, such nonprofit groups offer paying jobs. This saves the government funds that would otherwise have been spent on unemployment allowances, he explained.

Regarding the campaign for the June 25 Lower House election, Nagato said he hopes politicians will take up the issue of nonprofit organizations and discuss ways to nurture self-sustaining grassroots businesses.

He also hopes such discussions will lead to laws that give nonprofit entities a clearly defined status, thereby enabling them to play a greater role in society.

Leading the Tokyo-based nongovernmental organization, which is comprised of about 200 member groups, Nagato said a legal framework is needed to distinguish worker co-ops and other nonprofit entities from conventional profit-oriented businesses and public service providers.

For instance, he said, nonprofit workers’ cooperatives should be given corporate status and preferential tax treatment.

“There are many people who earnestly hope to work for the community. What we need now is to make the best use of citizens’ power,” he said.

Under the current system, however, he said, “Their aspirations cannot be converted into sustainable businesses.”

Both the government and business communities are counting on sprouting venture businesses, especially in information technology, to revive the economy and generate jobs. But Nagato is critical of this widely held expectation.

There are a number of low-risk, low-return fields hitherto neglected by profit-seeking venture businesses, he said, pointing out that they are the areas in which nonprofit organizations can play a role.

As to whether the upcoming election will give the hoped-for boost to his group’s efforts for the legislation, however, Nagato appears pessimistic, noting that major political parties have so far ignored such proposals.

Not only that, he said, he is also concerned that Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori’s recent controversial remark, calling Japan a “divine nation centering on the Emperor,” may divert public attention from policy debates during the election campaign period.

“I had expected that the election would question the good and bad points of the policy taken by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party,” he said. “But things don’t seem to be happening that way. I hope that the focus will shift to issues such as those related to citizens’ daily life and economic policy.”