Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi defended his structural reform drive Friday, although he acknowledged the role it may have played in the record number of economy-related suicides in 2002.

“Without structural reform, you would get more pain,” Koizumi told reporters at his official residence. “I hope people will give thought to this aspect.”

He was referring to the need to prioritize radical economic reform over makeshift economy- or job-boosting measures with short-term benefits.

Some of those who killed themselves “could not endure the hard circumstances,” he said.

Of the 32,143 people who committed suicide last year, 7,940, or roughly 25 percent of the total, reportedly killed themselves because of “economic or livelihood problems.” The National Police Agency said this is the highest figure since it started compiling statistics in 1978.

The figures reflect an increase in the number of people who have lost their jobs amid corporate cutbacks, along with a growing number of individuals plagued by debt problems as the economic slump drags on.

More than half the suicides involved people without jobs, at 15,117. Meanwhile, 7,470 suicides involved employees, 4,089 were self-employed, 2,896 were housewives and house-husbands, and 745 were corporate managers.

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