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Despite improvements, 1 in 7 Japanese children live in poor households: survey

Kyodo

The nation’s child poverty rate improved slightly in 2015, thanks in part to a more robust job market, but 1 in 7 children remain poor, a survey by the welfare ministry showed Tuesday.

The national livelihood survey showed 13.9 percent of children under 18 were in households living on less than half the national median household disposal income, down 2.4 percentage points from the previous survey in 2012, when the rate was the worst on record, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry said.

A ministry official attributed the first improvement in 12 years to an improved job market pushing up incomes.

But the rate remains relatively high among industrialized countries, and the situation is particularly dire for single-parent households.

The relative poverty rate, which is the percentage of people in all generations living in households with an income below 50 percent of the national median level, fell half a percentage point to 15.6 percent.

Viewed by household composition, the poverty rate among single-parent households was much higher at 50.8 percent, according to the extensive survey, conducted every three years.

According to the latest data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the average child poverty rate among 36 countries including its members stood at 13.3 percent, and the average relative poverty rate was 11.4 percent, both lower than the figures for Japan.

The rate of single-mother households with loans or without any savings increased from the previous survey in 2012, and 82.7 percent said their daily livelihood is “tough.”

In 2014, a law came into effect to help children in poverty receive an education, while another law to assist the needy came into force the following year.

Although some measures have been taken, more children are said to be suffering from less visible forms of poverty, as it is often difficult to tell whether a child is in poverty just by looking at their belongings.

Critics are calling for the need to comprehensively measure their conditions by looking not just at financial aspects but at their access to proper meals and equal education.

As of 2015, the average household income rose 1.6 percent from 2012 to about ¥5.46 million, and that for households raising children increased 5.1 percent to around ¥7.08 million.

On their daily livelihood, a total of 56.5 percent of households described their circumstances as “very tough” or “somewhat tough.”

Among women who have children, 67.2 percent had jobs, up 4.1 percentage points from the previous survey. As children grew up the rate of working mothers increased, but the majority held nonregular jobs.

So-called elderly households, consisting of only people aged 65 or older as well as those made up of people aged 65 or older and children under 18, rose to a record 26.6 percent.

The survey covered households across the country except Kumamoto Prefecture, which was rocked by powerful earthquakes in April last year. The ministry received about 224,000 valid answers to its questionnaire on household composition, and some 25,000 valid answers on income.