Media Mix, Feb. 14, 2021

Hiroaki Nakanishi

Here’s this week’s Media Mix, which is about comments made by Keidanren chief Hiroaki Nakanishi and Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga about the current economic situation that were picked up by the media. Though the two men were talking about two different things—Nakanishi wages, Suga welfare—they were tied together, most convincingly by Tokyo Shimbun, as showing how employment policies enacted in the 90s have led to a general loss of financial security for many people. Professor Michio Goto told the newspaper that the political world and the business world pretty much worked together to make this happen, since, after the Japanese economy started stagnating in the 90s, companies convinced the government to eliminate lifetime employment so that they could compete more effectively on a global stage. By filling human resources with more non-regular workers, companies could save money, since personnel is the biggest expense they have. Goto found that that over the past 20 years males in their 30s and 40s showed the lowest wage increase of all demographic groups, and if these men married with the intention of having a family their wives would have to go to work in order to raise their standard of living enough to raise children. The problem here is that women’s wages have always been low, regardless of whether they work full-time or part-time, and hasn’t changed much in the last 20 years. The business world, he says, expects that, and takes advantage of the “social thinking” that believes male regular employees are the breadwinners and their wives just need to make enough money to help with household expenses. Consequently, the business community has never seriously considered raising women’s wages in line with men’s wages because they think no one really cares. This situation speaks to the experience of the woman profiled by Mainichi Shimbun as mentioned in the column.

As for the government’s take on welfare, which is supposed to help people who end up destitute, as Tokyo Shimbun points out, when the LDP regained power in 2012 one of the main planks on their platform was cutting welfare outlays by 10 percent, so if we accept the conventional wisdom that they won that election handily it would seem to mean that the public is all right with that, and this is where the media comes in, because they love reporting on welfare cheats, even though welfare cheats are very rare. And one of the methods the authorities use to discourage welfare applicants is calling relatives to see if they could support the applicant rather than the government, and not just parents, but siblings, aunts, uncles, even cousins. According to one expert interviewed by Tokyo Shimbun, this strategy is very effective in that many people who apply for welfare are so disheartened by the process that they never do it again, regardless of how desperate they are. 

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