The road to full-time employment seems remote.
In Japan, there are about 2.73 million non-regular workers aged 35 to 54, also known as “middle-aged freelancers”. One in 10 people in this age group is an informal employee. This figure does not include married women. In addition, 4.14 million women aged 35 to 54 are also non-regular workers, but are not included in the employment statistics because they are dependents. That said, there seem to be more potential middle-aged freelancers.
In an army of middle-aged freelancers, I spoke to Takuya Matsumoto about his years as an informal worker.
There is no escape from the fate of informal employment
“Now that I’m 43, I’m disillusioned with society. If I think about the fact that I will still be an irregular worker, I feel that I have no place to rest in society.
There have been countless informal hires, almost all by shady companies. When he was in his 30s, he worked for a large sales company with a monthly salary of 300,000 yen and soon became a vice manager. But the mandatory overtime requirement of more than 100 hours a month forced him to resign.
He then started working in restaurants, earning 130,000 yen a month on part-time jobs. Before long, he made a request to the restaurant to improve labor treatment, but was fired. Having lost his job, he managed to make ends meet on subsistence benefits while attending vocational training.
He kept looking for work, eventually landing a full-time job as a clerk at a high-end supermarket in Tokyo run by a major retail chain, and his life gradually “settled down.” Due to a shortage of workers in the retail industry, pay has risen slightly, with Tuoya earning 1,260 yen an hour. Because the store was often open late, he volunteered to work during the more subsidized hours. He earns 80,000 yen a month in overtime alone; After deducting social security and other expenses, the monthly take-home pay can be maintained at about 230,000 yen.
Even so, every time his contract expires, he worries about whether his employer will renew it. The company suspended dispatch of many of its cashiers, and employees had no choice but to put up with it. The uncertainty about how easily employers could lay off non-regular workers always worried him.
“Finding a job only gets harder as you get older. I think it will be difficult for me to become a regular employee no matter how hard I try. Existing savings are just a drop in the bucket. What shall I do now?” No matter how hard they try, they cannot escape informal employment, and they reflect the underlying poverty in society.
The neglected problem of middle-aged labor
In the midst of a great job market, we’ve overlooked an important group of people who came out of the ice age and are now known as “middle-aged freelancers.”
Public attention to the term began in 2015. The number of middle-aged freelancers has increased year by year to 2.73 million in 2015, according to estimates by Miki Ohata, a researcher at mitsubishi UFJ Research Resources.
Of course, they have less savings and lower rates of social security participation than regular workers. In a few more years, they will be living on pension benefits, most of which are less than Y70,000 a month. As a result, they are increasingly squeezed and end up on subsistence benefits. However, Japan’s financial capacity may not be able to afford such a huge amount of subsidies, and even cause the collapse of the system.
Also, why are the ranks of middle-aged freelancers so large?
The answer to this question seems obvious. In Japan, new graduates who fail to become regular employees when they apply for jobs have to enter society as non-regular workers. According to a report on the working life of non-regular workers in their prime released by the Labor Policy Research Institute in 2015, a 25-year-old male non-regular worker has a 41.7 percent chance of becoming a regular worker five years later at age 30. Ten years later, at the age of 35, the probability of becoming a regular employee was 49.1 percent. If a man is a non-regular worker at age 30, he has a 28.0 percent chance of becoming a regular worker at age 35.
The generation of graduates caught in the employment ice age are now in middle age (35 to 54 years old). We call it the “employment ice generation” and “lost generation”. Most of them are still unemployed and living a hard life.
The Ministry of Education, Culture, Education, Science and Technology publishes the Basic School Survey to focus on trends in employment rates.
Before the bubble burst, the employment rate of college graduates remained at a relatively high level of around 80%. From 1992 onwards, affected by the bursting of the bubble economy, the employment rate of new graduates declined gradually, dropping to 65.9% in 1995, which was only the beginning of the employment ice age. Even yamaichi securities, a top-ranked securities firm, closed its doors in 1997, and employment in Japan as a whole continued to deteriorate. According to statistics, the employment rate fell below 60 percent for the first time in 2000, to 55.8 percent. In 2003, it fell again to 55.1%, a record low. This means that one in two students face job failure.
It is important to note that the employment data at that time included people with more than one year’s labor contract, which means that informal employment was also included. In other words, the employment rate includes both formal and informal employers. When I graduated in 2000, only one out of two students could find a job, and it is unclear how many of them entered the society as regular workers. In 2003, the total unemployment rate for 20 – to 24-year-olds was 9.8%, meaning that one in ten college graduates could not find a job at all.
The employment rate has since recovered to 69.9 per cent. However, lehman triggered another crisis and employment fell to 60.8 per cent in 2010. With the collapse of The Lehman Brothers crisis and the retirement peak of the group generation starting in 2007, the employment market for college graduates has gradually turned into a seller’s market since 2010 in order to secure talent supply. As mentioned above, the employment rate of recent college graduates rose to 77.1% in March 2018, finally returning to the employment level before the bubble economy burst.
New graduates looking for jobs are on a roller coaster that ebbs and flows with the economy, their fate determined only by the fortunes of their graduation year.