Job opportunities for young people, women and elderly people are the main topic of this year’s government white paper on people’s lifestyles. Many young people can’t seem to get the jobs they really want. Women are experiencing a hard time finding jobs after giving birth or after raising their children. Elderly people struggle to find post-retirement work.

The white paper, published by the Cabinet Office, is subtitled “Toward a society of diversified possibilities.” It focuses on the difficulties people face in their job search.

When society puts the energy and creativity of people who desire jobs to use in the workplace, it energizes itself. Both the government and business enterprises should step up efforts to work out concrete measures for realizing this goal.

An increasing number of young people find that their first jobs are less than, or very different from, what they had hoped for, so they continue their search for work into which they can devote their energy. The number of these young people, ages 15 to 34, increased by 1.3 times from 4.25 million in 1987 to 5.58 million in 2004. These people made up 22.9 percent of their age bracket, up from 17.9 percent in 1987.

Of those who found regular employment after graduating from universities in March 2001, 35.4 percent quit their companies within three years, a rise of 11.7 percentage points from 1992. Behind this trend is the rise in the number of (1) those who had to accept unwanted jobs during the decade-long recession and (2) regular workers who did not like the prolonged working hours.

Many young people are having a hard time in their hunt for regular employment. The number of young people who sought regular employment but had to settle for part-time work reached 970,000 in 2002, a 60 percent increase over the past five years. In 2004, only 5.4 percent of young part-timers succeeded in finding regular employment.

The white paper urges employers to end their bias against employing young people who used to be part-time workers or who quit their first job within two or three years. It also calls on young people to improve their job skills and abilities.

Meanwhile, an increasing number of women who have given birth want to continue to work and an increasing number of women who have finished child-rearing want to re-enter the job market. To help the first group, the white paper calls on employers to make it easier for women who have been unemployed for a long time to take maternity leave and to set up nurseries at the workplace. The white paper says it may be more difficult for the second group of women to find jobs because their abilities are assumed to have deteriorated during their long absence from work. It says corporations should clarify the abilities and standards required of women to let them know where they stand and how they can improve.

The government report draws attention to the high rate of latent unemployment among men aged 65 to 69. The rate was 8.9 percent in 2004 — 2.6 points higher than the average for all age groups. This figure includes people who have stopped seeking employment on the grounds that decent jobs are just not available. The report says society has failed to sufficiently develop the types of jobs suitable for elderly people. It also calls for development of community work and social-service activities in which elderly people can utilize their wealth of knowledge.

The white paper took up the concept of workers’ cooperatives in which retired elderly people participate with their capital and labor. The elderly not only provide services but also earn money. Such groups can contribute to the rejuvenation of communities. In fiscal 2005, more than 40,000 people were working in 76 workers’ cooperatives. The value of their work output was estimated at 21.5 billion yen, an increase of 2.4 percent from the previous year. Work related to nursing care and welfare showed a particular rise in value.

In today’s Japanese society, the older one gets, the more difficult it is to find a new job. The report warns that this situation will result in fixing the gaps in lifelong income among people. The white paper stresses the importance of ensuring jobs for any person willing to work, at any stage of his or her life. If such a social system is established, a mistake or patch of bad luck at one stage of a person’s life need not go on to dictate the possibilities for the rest of his or her life.

The annual report’s message is especially relevant in view of Japan’s population, which started shrinking in 2005. The social system envisaged by it would help bring more people into the shrinking labor force, increase the birthrate, and result in elderly people, including postwar baby boomers who begin retiring in large numbers next year, passing down their accumulated job skills to younger generations.

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