Japan’s Aging Workforce – Will America face the same problems?

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Japan has the fastest aging population of all industrialized nations, and now with the sharp economic downturn being experienced by global markets, the signs of an aging society are become more apparent.

An aging population that is either unable to work further places an additional burden on the health system, and an aging population that is unable to find work due to their age impacts negatively on the tax revenues. It is a double edged sword that is striking at the heart of Japan. In 2000, 17.4% of the Japanese population was 60 years or older,  and it is estimated that by 2025 and 2054 those numbers will increase to 28.7% and 36% respectively. For a more detailed analysis of the aging population in Japan and implications please read Yukiko T. Ellis’ report.

The United States and Canada are facing similiar problems with a dramatic rise in their population over the age of 60, which is estimated to jump from 16% in 2000 to over 25% in 2025. The impact of rise can be mitigated somewhat at least in the North American context with the influx of a younger immigrant base. However, Japan does not have this luxury and the fertility rate amongst Japanese females is some of the lowest in the world.

This article from Norimitsu Onishi highligts some of the social signs we are beginning to see now of an aging population combined with an economic slow down.

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A leftover city of day laborers in Japan faces grim future
By Norimitsu Onishi
Sunday, October 12, 2008

OSAKA, Japan: With job signs stuck to their vans’ windshields and sliding side doors left open in expectation, the recruiters were sizing up the potential hires at Japan’s largest day-labor market here recently.

By 4:30 a.m., thousands of aging day laborers had spilled out of the neighborhood’s flophouses and homeless shelters, or risen from its parks and streets, to form a potential work force of mostly graying men.

A sign on one blue van, barely legible in the twilight, offered a 15-day construction job paying $95 a day, minus $33 in room and board.

Although the terms were comparatively decent, the recruiter sitting in a folding chair in front of the blue van had found only one suitably young laborer by 5 a.m. Most were above the unwritten cutoff age of 55.

“It’s really hard to use the men here because they’ve gotten old,” said the recruiter, Takuya Nakamae, 55, turning his head toward his prize catch, a recruit in his 30s. “If you’re this young, everybody wants you and you get plenty of offers. Just look at how young you are!”

And yet it was the older men who really knew how to work, he said, adding: “They’re the ones who worked during Japan’s decades of economic boom, so they know the ins and outs of every job. It’s just that they don’t have the strength anymore.”

Nowadays, few young men gravitate here, the Airin district of Osaka. Little is being built in Japan’s stagnant economy, and young day laborers or part-time workers find jobs by registering their cellphone numbers with temporary employment agencies.

Many of the older men who remain arrived here to work on the 1970 Expo in Osaka, which, like the Tokyo Olympics six years earlier, became a symbol of postwar Japan’s rebirth. Over the decades, they left to work on bridges, buildings and highways all over the country, performing the dirtiest and most dangerous jobs in helping build Japan. Some made it out of here and moved on to steadier jobs and lives.

But many others are still in Airin, one of the few corners of Japan where stray dogs lie in the middle of the street alongside drunken men, and Japanese mobsters, or yakuza, sell drugs openly on street corners and run gambling dens on certain blocks. After one worker claimed abuse by the police, scores of people here rioted for five days over the summer, though old-timers said the disturbances were only a faint echo of the violent and widespread riots of the 1960s and 1990s.

Many of the men left in Airin, on average just shy of 60 years old and with no family ties, are waiting to die here, said Minoru Yamada, who moved here in 1973, once worked as a day laborer and is now chairman of Kamagasaki Shien Kiko, a private organization that helps laborers.

“At one time, this was a place where you could remake yourself,” Yamada said. “But not anymore. Now it’s become a dumping ground for old men, a place where waste is disposed of.”

A grim report by the city government last year said that conditions in Airin were rapidly worsening: an aging population, rising homelessness, deepening poverty and increasing cases of tuberculosis and alcoholism. The number of welfare recipients has grown fivefold in the past decade.

An ancient slum, this area was renamed and reshaped into Airin in the 1960s when the city government cleared it of family dwellings, concentrated all the city’s day laborers here and invited others from all over Japan to meet a construction boom. Today, the city estimates that 30,000 people live here, about a quarter of its peak two decades ago, in this 62-hectare, or 153-acre, neighborhood, which is less than one-fifth the size of New York’s Central Park.

The district’s overall population is more than 85 percent male. But in Airin’s core – an urban valley hemmed in by wide avenues and an elevated train track – there are almost no women at all.

During Japan’s economic go-go years, the number of jobs offered here swelled, peaking at 9,614 a day in 1990. The number has fallen to about a third of that today and no longer includes jobs in the kind of large and lucrative construction projects that fueled Japan’s boom.

Still, recruiters show up every morning at the Airin General Center, the day-labor market, saying they need to check over hires before sending them to a job.

“This is different from bidding on dead tuna at a fish market auction,” said one recruiter, who said he shifted to Airin more than two decades ago after working as a pimp in Tokyo. “Sure, you can recruit on the Internet, but on the Internet, you can’t make out someone’s character. For example, a guy can be O.K. if he hasn’t been drinking. But if he has, he may get crazy and create problems for everybody around him.”

A couple of hours after the recruiters had left for the day, Tadashi Kato showed up at the center to put his name down for a job as a night watchman. Kato, 75, came here in 1957, abandoning forever his home in rural Hokkaido and family talk of fixing him up with a job at the national railway.

“It’d be natural to wonder whether I would have been better off joining the national railway, but I’ve led a carefree life and have seen things that people usually can’t,” Kato said in a guttural voice, explaining that he had taken photos of past riots here and was looking for a “successor” to inherit them.

He once lived in a flophouse. But nowadays, with few jobs coming his way, he sleeps on the streets. He refused to apply for welfare or enter the city-run homeless shelters, where each person receives one piece of hardtack bread a night. He would never, he said, depend on the government.

He was married briefly, and he said that, unlike many of the men who came here to escape after accumulating debts or abandoning their families, he long supported his former wife and their only child, a daughter.

He last saw his daughter, in Tokyo, when his first grandchild was born three decades ago.

“‘Your feet stink – don’t come here dressed like that,”‘ he said she told him. “She said I could come if I had some money for her, but not to bother if I didn’t. Either way, it’s hard being a man.”

He had not seen his daughter since, but he said he knew her address.

“When I die, I’ll absolutely go to my daughter’s,” Kato said of his ashes, adding, “Sometimes, you know, I think if I could go painlessly, it wouldn’t be that bad not to wake up in the morning.”

It was not 11 a.m. yet, but Airin’s tiny outdoor drinking stalls were already filling up. These days, the most popular was a five-stool stall that belonged to Yayoi Onodera, 48, who charged $5 per drink and sold rice balls. She had earned around $40,000 in profit since moving here from Tokyo six months ago.

“I never dreamed I’d make so much money,” Onodera said, adding that she had struggled in the beginning but was encouraged by a local yakuza leader who used to stop by before he was arrested and imprisoned for drug dealing.

Later that afternoon, many of the men drifted to Sankaku Park nearby where they watched sumo wrestlers on a television set atop a pole.

But Kazuyasu Ikeda, 64, went straight home to the 4.5-square-meter, or 49-square-foot, room he had been renting for the past six years for $11 a night. From his fourth-floor room, where he had a television set, 16 small cactuses and a small tank filled with guppies, he had a view of a parking lot and, beyond that, the Hankai train line.

He had just collected his wages for cutting grass that day and was in high spirits. The wages, of course, were nothing compared with what he had made during Japan’s economic boom. Helping to build a highway in Okinawa back then, he said, he far outearned American marines stationed there.

“At a foreigners’ bar that I used to go to, I was even more popular than the foreigners,” Ikeda said, adding that he was such a regular that the bar kept a bottle of Camus Cognac for him.

He never had children and thus suffered no guilt, he said with a laugh.

But as he watched the end of the sumo matches of the day, Ikeda, a red towel he had used while working still wrapped around his head, seemed to grow tired and his mood darkened. The conversation drifted, as it often did in Airin, to the topic of death.

Ikeda boasted that he had never taken a handout, stood in a soup line or stayed in a homeless shelter. When there were no jobs, he collected aluminum cans. His “policy” was to rely on no one, he said.

“I’ll hang on for another 10 years,” he said.

The men here, he said, were like cigarette lighters worth 100 yen, or less than $1.

“It’s painful to throw away a Zippo or Dunhill lighter even if it doesn’t light properly anymore,” he said. “But 100-yen lighters you just throw away. That’s what we are.”

International Herald Tribune Copyright © 2008 The International Herald Tribune | http://www.iht.com

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What is a Jew in Catholic’s Clothing? Still a Sarkozy

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Sarkozy is criticized for Holocaust memorial plan

By Elaine Sciolino, Friday, February 15, 2008, IHT

PARIS: President Nicolas Sarkozy dropped the intellectual bombshell at the end of a dinner speech to representatives of France’s Jewish community: Beginning next autumn, every French 10-year-old will have to learn the life story of one of the 11,000 French children killed by the Nazis in the Holocaust.

“Nothing is more moving, for a child, than the story of a child his own age, who has the same games, the same joys and the same hopes as he, but who, at the dawn of the 1940s, had the bad fortune to be defined as a Jew,” Sarkozy said in the speech Wednesday night. He added that every French child should be “entrusted with the memory of a French child-victim of the Holocaust.”

Sarkozy wrapped his plan in the cloak of religion, blaming the wars and violence of the last century on an “absence of God” and calling the Nazi belief in a hierarchy of races “radically incompatible with Judeo-Christian monotheism.”

Sarkozy

Education Minister Xavier Darcos explained later that the aim of the plan was to “create an identification between a child of today and one of the same age who was deported and gassed.”

The announcement, which comes as Sarkozy is already under fire for his frequent praise of God and religion, has touched off an even fiercer wave of protest.

Some psychiatrists and educators predict that requiring students to identify with a Holocaust victim will traumatize them and unfairly burden them with the guilt of their forefathers. Secularists accuse Sarkozy of subverting both France’s iron-clad separation of church and state and the republican ideal of a single, nonreligious identity for all.

Political opponents dismiss the plan as only his latest misguided idea unveiled without reflection or consultation. Some historians call the move a manipulation of the past that could distort France’s history of collaboration with the Nazis and lead to an escalation of personal remembrances of victims of other horrors of history.

“Every day the president throws out a new unhappy idea with no coherence,” said Pascal Bruckner, a philosopher. “But this last one is truly obscene, the very opposite of spirituality. Let’s judge it for what it is: a crazy proposal of the president, not the word of the Gospel.”

The initiative has also pitted Jew against Jew.

“It is unimaginable, unbearable, dramatic and, above all, unjust,” Simone Veil, honorary president of the Foundation for the Memory of the Holocaust and a Holocaust survivor, said on the Web site of the magazine L’Express. “You cannot inflict this on little 10-year-olds! You cannot ask a child to identify with a dead child. This history is much too heavy to carry.”

Veil was in the audience when Sarkozy spoke, and said that when she heard his words, “My blood turned to ice.”

But Serge Klarsfeld, the Jewish historian who has devoted his life to recording the names and biographies of France’s Holocaust victims, praised the president for his “courage.”

“This is the crowning glory of long and arduous work,” he said. “To those who say it’s too difficult for young children – that’s not true. What they see on television or in a horror film is much worse. This is not a morbid mission.”

On one level, the plan is a logical extension of Sarkozy’s sometimes sentimental and pedagogical approach to governing. Last year, he enraged politicians on the left, the biggest high school teachers’ union and some historians and teachers when he ordered all high schools in France to read a handwritten letter by a 17-year-old student who knew he was going to be executed by the Nazis for his resistance activities.

Sarkozy Jewish Award

On another level, it reflects his repeated declarations that as president he is also a “friend,” as he calls himself, of Israel. By extension, he is also a friend of France’s Jews. He is the first French president to address the annual dinner of France’s Jewish community.But there is something else. The plan comes as Sarkozy is trying to shatter another taboo in French intellectual life: religion. In a way, it reflects his deeply held, if iconoclastic, belief that religious values have an important place in everyday French society.

When Sarkozy was made an Honorary Canon of the Basilica of Saint John of Lateran in Rome last December, he proposed a “positive secularism” that “does not consider religions a danger, but an asset.” He was even more provocative in declaring that “the schoolteacher will never be able to replace the priest or the pastor” in teaching the difference between good and evil.

In Saudi Arabia last month, he infused his speech with more than a dozen references to God, who, he said, “liberates” man. He also declared last month that it was a mistake to delete the reference to “Europe’s Christian roots” from the European Constitution.”

In France, where religion is regarded as a private matter, Sarkozy vaunts his religious identity, referring publicly to his Jewish grandfather and wearing his Catholicity on his sleeve.

“I am of Catholic culture, Catholic tradition, Catholic belief, even if my religious practice is episodic,” he wrote in a book of essays in 2004. “I consider myself a member of the Catholic Church.”

But Sarkozy’s personal conduct seems to contradict his declaration of Catholic spirituality. Twice divorced, three times married (despite adherence to a religion that still abhors divorce), he has so alienated the country that an OpinionWay poll published Friday concluded that an overwhelming 82 percent of the French disapprove of his behavior.

That level of disapproval seems to have made Sarkozy vulnerable in whatever he does these days, including his Holocaust initiative.

Teachers defended the current approach to the Holocaust in French schools. Since 2002, 10-year-olds have studied the Nazi extermination of the Jews as a crime against humanity.

Older children watch films on the Holocaust, visit Holocaust museums and memorials and take field trips to concentration camps. Schools where students were taken away for deportation hang plaques in their memory.

“The Holocaust has to be put in the context of the rise of the Nazis and the war, not just emotion and dramatic spectacle,” said Gilles Moindrot, secretary general of the largest primary school teachers’ union. “If you do this with the memory of individual Jews, you’d have to do it with the victims of slavery or the wars of religion.”

Some of Sarkozy’s other political foes accuse him of trying to put his personal stamp everywhere.

“One day he is giving us sermons about God,” Jean-Luc Mélenchon, a Socialist senator, said on LCI television on Friday, adding, “Now he has suddenly turned himself into a teacher.”

Other analysts blamed the confessional approach of the United States for infecting Sarkozy’s thinking.

“Listen, it’s in the air of the times,” Regis Debray, a philosopher and author, said Friday on France Inter radio. “There is a religious sentimentality, a pretty vague religiousness, let’s say, in the world of show business, in the world of business, that comes from America. It’s the neoconservative wave of the born-agains.”

The anti-racism group MRAP accused Sarkozy of chauvinism by singling out French victims of the Holocaust for study and excluding other targeted groups like the gypsies.

holocaust child

Sarkozy’s advisers acknowledged that he came up with his Holocaust plan for schoolchildren without any formal consultation. In the face of all the criticism, however, Sarkozy vowed to proceed with it.

“It is ignorance – not knowledge – that leads to the repetition of abominable situations,” he said during a visit to Perigueux in central France on Friday, adding, “You do not traumatize children by giving them the gift of the memory of a country.”

Sarkozy Thumbs Up to Holocaust Education

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