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The number of young people not studying, working or looking for work remained at a record-high level of about 640,000 in 2004 — a trend since 2002 — according to a government white paper released Friday.

People — aged 15 to 34 — who fall into this category are known as NEETs, short for “not in education, employment or training.”

The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare said in its annual report on labor that the main factor contributing to the number of NEETs without work experience was the concern about communicating with others both at the workplace and outside, while for those with work experience, the roadblock was uncertainty about what kind of jobs they wanted and loss of self-confidence.

Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Hidehisa Otsuji said the government should treat the NEET problem “as a serious social issue rather than just a segment of labor policy.”

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