Kishida has no time to waste as stories of failing middle class hit the stands

In a September 30 speech outlining his political program, Fumio Kishida, the newly elected Liberal Democratic Party chairman and pending prime minister, described a strategy he dubbed “the Reiwa-era revenue doubling plan. “.

The “doubling of incomes” is a not-so-subtle reference to the plan put forward by then-Prime Minister Hayato Ikeda in 1960. He would retire four years later, but under his successor, Eisaku Sato, the economy Japanese continued to exceed 10%. annual growth and its gross national product has doubled in less than seven years.

Kishida, stating that as long as the fruits of growth “focus only on certain people … we cannot establish a healthy business cycle,” pledged to redistribute wealth by raising people’s wages “so that more can join the middle class “.

A man struggles to sell The Big Issue magazine in Osaka amid the pandemic as the number of passers-by has declined. The magazine offers homeless people the opportunity to earn legitimate income. | KYODO

A few weeks earlier, the business magazine Diamond (September 9) had published an extensive 36-page section titled “The New Class Society (Made Up of) the Privileged Class and the Impoverished Middle Class,” and based on its descriptions of the how conditions have deteriorated – especially since the start of the pandemic – Kishida will certainly have his work cut out for him.

“Why is no one able to improve their status? Diamond asked in his introduction. “The image of the Japanese as a middle class nation of 100 million people has collapsed as the once strong average in society is rapidly turning into an underclass. In this irrational world, classes are more like “modern castes”, determined by factors such as family lineage, educational level, and economic climate during a person’s tenure. “

In a two-page interview, Waseda University humanities professor Kenji Hashimoto told Diamond that class disparities in Japan started to widen from around 1980, but that “the” corona shock “current has put an end to any illusion of a middle class of 100 million people.”

Hashimoto points out that the government was wrong at the start of the pandemic when it designated which entities were “non-essential”. This decision has had serious repercussions on small retailers, food and beverage companies, and the workers who work there.

Through a survey conducted in Japan’s three major metropolitan areas earlier this year, Hashimoto found that the pandemic had particularly affected two low-income segments of the population. The first group comprises the 7.1 million formerly middle-class households, generally characterized by self-employed or working for a family business. The average annual income of this group fell from 8.05 million yen in 2019 to 6.78 million yen in 2020, and 20.4% of their total fell below the poverty line.

The second group, made up of the 9.13 million households belonging to the so-called subclass, includes housewives and others who are contract workers or part-time employees. They have seen their income affected by fewer working days and reduced hours, the number of days they were unable to get to work and changes in their employment conditions. While their incomes fell by an average of 530,000 yen, this was enough to push an additional 5.3% of them below the poverty line, which impoverished 38% of these households.

While the wealthiest people have also seen their incomes drop, most of them have the assets to circumvent the emergency measures imposed by the pandemic. One of those luxuries is subscription services. Shukan Post (October 8) reviewed the deals offered by luxury hotels in Tokyo, such as the Imperial Hotel.

“The Imperial even set up a beer server in my room, which I really appreciated,” says Mr. A (and the “A” here could mean wealth). The Imperial Hotel, Tokyo offers a 30-day subscription for 750,000, and in A’s opinion, paying that amount makes more sense than wasting the time he needs to conduct business.

“However, I realized one thing is that living in a hotel is surprisingly impractical,” he adds. “The nature of my job makes me stay in hotels all over the country, so coming home to one of them seems a little pointless to me.”

Even though Japan has compulsory national health insurance, a report by Spa magazine (October 5) pointed to stark contrasts in health awareness among people with annual incomes of less than 3 million yen, compared to those who earn 10 million yen or more.

Spa’s survey, conducted last month, looked at 500 men and 500 women, aged 40 to 59. Subjects were asked about exercise, eating habits, hours of sleep per night, frequency of check-ups and reasons for not seeing a doctor.

Compared with 86% of the wealthiest people who gave positive responses, 57% of the lower income bracket said they organize physical exams once or more times a year. (But 20% in the low-income segment responded that they had never had a physical check-up.)

Sadly, some, like 27-year-old day laborer Yoshihiko Fukuchi (a pseudonym), may be beyond the reach of Japan’s social safety net. Spending his nights in an internet cafe when he could afford it and sleeping on park benches when he couldn’t, his diet consisted mostly of instant noodles or shoddy canned food. When work dried up due to COVID-19, he eventually sought a public welfare facility but, four days later, passed out on the street, hitting the back of his head when ‘he fell.

Coming to consciousness in an ambulance, he remembers being more concerned about his ability to pay the hospital bill than his condition. Doctors attributed his fainting to anemia caused by malnutrition, and he refused to be hospitalized.

“The bill was 25,800 yen. I didn’t even have 10,000 in my name, but I took an advance on the boss’s salary where I worked part-time, ”he told Spa. “Fortunately, health insurance stepped in and covered 70% of the costs.”

Kishida, who became prime minister on October 4, clearly faces an uphill battle.

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