Labor ministry to extend job program to social recluses and NEETs in early 40s

Kyodo

The government has decided to expand the scope of its job support program for socially withdrawn people, which is limited to those 39 or younger, to include people in their early 40s, labor ministry officials said Saturday.

Many people aged 40 to 44 have been living as hikikomori (recluses) who shut themselves in at home, or NEETs, an acronym for “not in education, employment or training,” because of the hardships they suffered during Japan’s “employment ice age,” the officials said.

After the implosion of Japan’s bubble economy at the turn of the 1990s, many young Japanese had difficulty finding regular employment as companies pared payrolls and personnel expenses. Some of those frozen out by this so-called employment ice age, often defined as between 1993 and 2005, are believed to have become socially withdrawn.

At present, the government offers employment assistance through various workshops at “youth support stations” for socially withdrawn people. These are run by nonprofit organizations and are present in all 47 prefectures.

The workshops cover subjects ranging from business manners and resume writing to a program that requires the participants to live together for a certain amount of time so they can get accustomed to human interaction again.

Starting next April, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry will let socially withdrawn people between 40 and 44 get assistance at support stations in 10 locations to be selected as model areas for the initiative.

Since the situation surrounding socially withdrawn people in their 40s is more serious than for younger people, the ministry will ask support centers in the selected areas to revise their programs to better accommodate their needs, the officials said.

The longer one goes without work, the more difficult it is to find a job. Some middle-aged people interviewed by Kyodo News said they would like to work but had no idea how to explain the extended jobless stretch indicated on their resumes.

And those with aged parents, some of whom need nursing care, expressed fears about what would happen after their parents die.

Government statistics show there were about 1 million people aged 15 and 44 who were not working or going to school as of 2016. If divided by groups of people aged up to four years apart, those aged 40 to 44 composed the largest group at 230,000.

According to a separate government survey in September 2016, around 540,000 people in Japan were estimated to be living as hikikomori, holed up in their homes for at least the previous half year and limiting their time outside to brief excursions, such as to buy something at the nearby convenience store.

Nearly 35 percent said they had been living that way for at least seven years, more than twice the figure logged in a 2010 survey.

But this government study was limited to people aged 15 and 39.