The health ministry plans to give preferential treatment to single mothers when hiring part-time workers, officials said Thursday.

The move is part of its program to support fatherless families under special legislation enacted in July.

When choosing from applications for part-time clerical work, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry will favor single mothers if there are no significant differences in qualifications from their competitors, the officials said.

The ministry hopes to set an example and plans to request that welfare facilities for the elderly, disabled and children, as well as other public interest organizations under its jurisdiction, follow suit.

The measure is aimed at supporting fatherless families, which are under an additional financial strain due to the continuing economic slump.

According the ministry, the number of fatherless families has been on the increase in recent years due to the rise in divorces and single women having children.

The ministry’s last survey, in 1998, put the number of such households at 954,900 nationwide.

Many single mothers have part-time jobs, and their average annual income in 1998 was only about 2.3 million yen — roughly one-third that of an ordinary household. They often face job cuts and tough prospects for re-employment as companies try to trim their payrolls, according to the ministry.

The ministry will introduce the preferential treatment not only at its main office but also at its related agencies and government-run hospitals and nursing homes, the officials said.

Job offers will be provided via support centers for single mothers in various prefectures, they said.

In the current fiscal year, the ministry has launched a program to pay 300,000 yen to employers each time they give full-time status to single mothers who were originally hired as part-time workers. The ministry hopes to publicize the program more widely through the support centers.

Calls to provide employment support for single mothers have been mounting since the government slashed child-rearing allowances for low-income households in April. The government claimed the cuts were aimed at focusing on measures to help single mothers be more self-reliant and find employment.

The law, enacted July 17, carries a provision calling on the government and local authorities to make special allowances through the end of March 2008 to secure employment for single mothers.

According to Single Mother’s Forum, a Tokyo-based private nonprofit organization, roughly 65 percent of the 283 mothers it surveyed between July and September 2002 said they had trouble making ends meet. Only 8 percent said they felt comfortable in terms of money.

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