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Nearly half of the respondents to a survey on social consciousness think public safety is getting worse, the government said Saturday.

When asked about what they think is getting worse in this country, 47.9 percent cited “public safety,” up 8.4 percentage points from the previous survey conducted by the Cabinet Office in January 2004.

This figure outranked the 38.5 percent who cited “the economy,” which dropped 7.0 points from the previous survey. This is the first time the economy has not been the No. 1 public concern since the government started including the question in 1998.

“Though the number of reported crimes last year decreased from the previous year, people feel public safety is worsening apparently because of the heinous nature of some recent crimes,” a Cabinet Office official said.

When asked what they felt most proud about regarding the country, 18 percent said well-maintained public safety, down 2 points from the previous survey. The figure was 52.1 percent in 1993.

The number of Japanese proud of public safety plunged after the 1995 sarin gas attacks on the Tokyo subway system by cult Aum Shinrikyo and has been falling ever since, the official added.

There was a sharp rise in the number of respondents who said education is getting worse in Japan, from 20.7 percent in the previous survey to 28.6 percent now.

The survey also shows many Japanese want to get involved in helping society, with 59.1 percent saying they want to do something for their community, unchanged from the previous survey, and a record 23.4 percent, up 6.3 points, saying they want to help people in disasters or engage in disaster-prevention work.

The large number of volunteers who were involved in disaster-related relief last year, such as the massive earthquake in Niigata Prefecture in October, may have helped raise public awareness of these activities, the official said.

When asked about the ideal number of children, 45.7 percent of respondents said three, up 1.6 points from the previous survey.

The Cabinet Office conducted the interview-based survey on 10,000 adults aged 20 and older from Jan. 27 to Feb. 6. It received valid responses from 6,586 people.

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