Editor:Tsutomu Uwagawa
Address:Rodo-Soken,Union Corp 3-3-1 Takinogawa,Kitaku,Tokyo,Japan(114)
Tel:03(3940)0523 Fax:03(5567)2968

Children Disappearing from Classrooms: What is Happening to Their Parents?

By Michinori Nojima


      As a saying tells us, "Human beings are born to serve the society, and by doing so, each can display individualities at full."

      Article twenty-seven of the Japanese Constitution stipulates that all people will have the right and the obligation to work, thus it guarantees the right of the people to work. Under the prolonged recession, Japanese high school and university students have to graduate from school without job, which means their right to work is not guaranteed. The central and local governments have a grave responsibility for it.

      In the past few years, we have seen an increase of students who cannot complete the course and just disappear from the classrooms.

      What is happening to their parents who are in their forties and fifties? Such a situation of students seems To relate to the increase in the cases of people killing themselves from financial difficulties due to the economic recession and streamlining under restructuring. It is not too much to say that such circumstances undermine the students' right to study.

Situations of Private High Schools

      In October 1999, the National Federation of Private School Teachers and Staff's Unions (Zenkoku Shikyoren) conducted a survey on unpaid-school-fee as of August 31. The purpose was to make clear what impact the present sluggish economy was having on private schools, students and their parents.

      The survey, the third one conducted by the union, shows that the number of those who fail to pay the fee for financial reasons have drastically increased from the second survey. It also reveals that accumulated arrears have forced students to leave school. The figure were 0.43 students per school, a little more than that of last year, 0.36. To the question made in the survey if any family of the students was suffering a sudden change in his/her earning due to bankruptcy or restructuring, 167 respondents answered "yes." In the space where the respondents explained the family's economic situation, they said: "It is difficult to size up the real situation"; "The parents, who were suffering from the poor family business that had gone bankruptcy last fiscal year, would not come to school in spite of the school's repeated demands for the payment of the fee"; "The whereabouts of the father in debt are unknown"; "Obvious cases are grasped, but a number of similar cases are to be found under the surface," and "The present situation is the most serious one that has ever seen."

What Does the "Sudden Change in Family Budget" Means?

      The Report of Aichi Private School Scholarship Foundation Secretariat tells the families' difficulties in paying the school fee. Most the 45 students who applied for scholarship before summer vacation gave the severe economic situation as the reason for their application using such words as "unemployment," "bankruptcy" or "no income."

      A private school in Hyogo Prefecture, which suffered a serious damage of the great Hanshin earthquake three years ago says: "A student has not paid the fee since April, and has not come to school since September. When we called to their home, we only get the answer from the telephone office, which says: "This number is out of order due to the customer's personal reason." We visited their home only to find nobody there.

      The following descriptions tell the feature of the present situation: "A family of 7 members with five children. The father works at a department store and mother is a part-timer. The father became a target of the restructuring in April this year, and the department authorities pressed him to retire early without any consultation on allowance. In the end they forced him to resign for personal reason, which did not allow him to receive the full amount of retirement allowance" (Hokkaido), "The parents got divorced after the business failure. Having difficulty in switching to a self-employed taxi driver, Father has become ill; he has attempted suicide for a nervous breakdown" (Osaka.)

      Unless relationship based on mutual trust exists between the school authorities, home-room teachers and parents, it is impossible to find out the real reason for the nonpayment of the school fee. Such a trust-based relationship can be built on the actual development and growth of students.

An Instance at a Private High School

      At a private high school, home-room teachers make conscious efforts in guiding students' life; they try to raise awareness of the students about the financial conditions of respective families so that they would start thinking about what they can do as a family member. In fact, many students of this school work part-time to cover the living expenses including the cost for traffic and food. Through activities based on "participation, study and self-government," students at this school have developed self-respect among themselves, which makes them feel pride in their school and a strong desire to continue studying there, even if they had to work their way through school.

      The parents in turn, seeing how much their children grow and develop, hope to help them graduate the school at any cost. However, the survey result shows that the parents fail to pay the school fee for economic reasons such as "income losses due to unemployment and bankruptcy under the recession," "divorce or separation," "decrease in living expenses due to the father's death," and "a family member's sickness." Such a severe situation forces students to leave school. Now, what are the causes of this absolute poverty?

Situation Becoming Worse with Restructuring Plans

      The gravest aspect of Japan's recession problem is that the employment situation is becoming critical rapidly. The unemployment statistics for the past eight months show that the number of the unemployed has kept the level of more than three million and the unemployment rate, more than 4.5 percent, a high in the postwar period. The Management and Coordination Agency made public October 29 that the unemployment rate of September dropped 0.1 point from the previous month and marked 4.6 percent. The Labor Ministry announced the same day that the ratio of officially registered openings against officially registered applications of September was 0.47, which meant a job is available to less than one out of two job seekers. The employment situation is so severe now Since October, when the "Industrial Revitalization" Law came into force, companies have rushed to announce one after another restructuring, that is, personnel reduction plans.

      The integration of the Industrial Bank of Japan, Ltd., the Daiichi-Kangyo Bank, Ltd. and the Fuji Bank, Ltd. will result in reduction of 6,000 workforces while the merger of the Sumitomo Bank. Ltd. and the Sakura Bank. Ltd., 9,300. Nissan Motor Co. plans to cut 21,000 personnel; NTT, 20,000; Mitsubishi Motors Corporation, 10,000. All these represent massive personnel cut plans with no precedent in the past few decades' history. Their social and economic impact and the grave effect they would have on people's livelihoods can already be seen in the above-mentioned situations of the parents of the students at private high schools.

      In his policy speech at the start of the 146 extraordinary Diet session October 29, Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi defined the present session as the "Diet for small- and medium-seized enterprises." However, in this fiscal year's general expenditure the amount allocated for small- and medium sized enterprises makes up only 0.41 percent of all, the worst figure in history. Easier said than done. I fear that any policy without substance can cope with the serious living conditions of the people.

70 percent Increased Suicides for Financial Problem

      The Nihon Keizai Shimbun of July 2 1999 reported that the National Police Agency's summary of suicides of the fiscal year 1998 "reflected the situation under recession and restructuring." The report said: "The number of suicides committed in the fiscal 1998 reached 32,868, exceeding for the first time the level of 30,000. This is the highest and worst record marked ever since 1947, when the first statistics were taken. Those killed themselves due to the debt, loss of job and other reasons related to "financial problems or difficulties in making a living" increases by 70 percent from the previous year and marked 6,058. Suicides from the "work problems" such as mistakes in work or reproof by one's superior was 1,877, namely 50 percent up. The results reflect the change in the economic situation and company circumstances under the prolonged recession and ongoing restructuring. "The figure represents twenty-six per 100 thousands of the population committing suicides, 6.7 more than the previous year's level. By sex, men's suicides were 23,013, 40.2 percent up from the previous year. This increase rate is well over women's increase-rate 23.5 percent. By age, suicides by those in the prime of life increased: those in their fifties, by 45.7 percent; in their early sixties, by 40.4 percent; and in their forties, by 27.6 percent.

      Looking into the reasons of suicides, "illness and the like," which makes up one-third of all, comes first. Since 1990, around the time of the collapse of the "bubble economy," suicides from "financial problems and difficulties in sustaining livelihood" have shown a tendency to rise, and in 1998, it marked a rapid increase, 70.4 percent up from the previous year. The percentage has almost quintupled in these eight years, reaching to hold nearly 20 percent of all.

      Among the "financial problems and difficulties in sustaining livelihood," "debt" is the biggest reason, for which 2,977 committed "poor business" of 1,165 follows suicides, and this and "badly-off in life" of 735. Suicides due to "badly-off in life," "unemployment" and "failure in job-finding" duplicated respectively from the previous year's level. In all these, suicides by those in their forties and fifties hold 60 percent.

Suicides Lowered the Average Life Expectancy by 0.2 years

      In Japan, it is estimated that when we become capable of treating the three main diseases, namely, "cancers," "heart trouble" and "cerebral apoplexy," our average life expectancy will extend by 8.91 years for men and 8.11 years for women.

      Japan has kept the position as the "country of the longest life in the world" for these three consecutive years. What about suicides that made a 40 percent rise from the previous year have lowered the average life span of this country?

      In the statistics taken by European countries and the United States as well, more men commit suicides than women. Some analyze that at the basis of this phenomenon is men's esthetics or vanity that men should always keep their chin up." But it is too painful to see that those of middle or advanced age, who are unable to speak of their own problems and weakness, being driven into a bind where they find themselves isolated with no alternative other than to kill themselves. Originally, forties and fifties that hold 60 percent of the suicides due to the financial problems and difficulties in making a living, actually should be the stages of life where people have finished raising their children and can start enjoying a stable, peaceful life.

People's Wish is the Government's Utmost to Solve Unemployment

      In the present 146 extraordinary "Small- and Medium-Sized Enterprises" Diet session, representatives of each political party have made interpellations

      To these interpellators who spoke for the people suffering under the present situation, the government side responded by saying: "Restructuring is necessary and the increase of an unemployment rate is inevitable" (Prime Minister); or "I understand that they carry out a massive dismissal to promote restructuring. The number will go beyond one million" (Director General of the Economic Planning Agency). Such an attitude of the government cannot avoid the criticism that it encourages dismissal under restructuring.
It is an urgent demand now that the Government should exercise its authority
1) to put the brakes on the overrunning restructuring,
2) to shorten the working hours, and
3) establish rules including a Dismissal Regulation Law to protect workers.
      Under the prolonged recession, we see a rapid increase of troubles involving self-supporting people who hold multiple liabilities, and the frequent occurrence of cases that people become multiple-loan borrowers to cover the living expenses due to "income decrease." We are determined to tackle the task of organizing the unemployed, uniting our efforts with the struggle of the unemployed to obtain jobs. As teachers and staffs' unions, our strategy in accomplishing this task is to have success in our nationwide campaign to collect thirty million signatures to "achieve a class-size of thirty and a drastic increase in subsidies for private schools."

      The author is Head of Education and Culture Department, National Federation of Private School Teachers and Staff's Unions.

Job-Finding of High School Students in an Icing Age

By Isamu Hamajima

1. The Unprecedented Job Shortage

      The Japan Senior High School Teachers and Staffs' Union (JSTU) recently issued investigation results that among the students, who are supposed to graduate from high schools and schools for the disabled in March 2000, only 49.5 percent of the job applicants have been recruited as of October (see the graph). The percentage of the students that received informal job offers from companies kept dropping every year from 80.1 percent of October 1993 to 66.0 percent of October 1998. It greatly decreased for the past year to mark as low as 49.4 percent, 16.5 percent down from the last year. It is extremely difficult now to ensure jobs for all the students before their graduation.

      The direct cause of this difficult situation of job finding for high school students is a sharp decrease in job offers from companies and the government to high school students. According to the investigation by the Labor Ministry, the national average ratio of job offers to high school students at the end of July this year is 0.62, the lowest record in history except the days of confusion after World War II. The present situation is extraordinarily bad. By region, the job opening ratio is 0.21 in Okinawa and Southern Kyushu, 0.22 in Hokkaido, 0.32 in Tohoku (northeastern), 0.33 in Northern Kyushu, and 0.49 in Sanin. All these figures show that everywhere in the country one job is applicable for two to five students. The gap between the regions in term of job opening ratio is big. Keihin, the region covering the area from Tokyo to Yokohama, marks 1.26, six times as large as those regions mentioned above. Job types opened to applicants are limited to the service industry such as probationary barbers and hairdressers, probationary cooks or waiters and gas station employees. Contrary to their wish, students have small chances of getting jobs in the manufacturing industry and clerical work. This imbalance of supply and demand makes it more difficult for students to find jobs.

2. Major Companies are the Main Culprits of Decrease in Job Offer

      Major companies play a leading part in the decrease of job offers to high school students. They used to hire junior and senior high school graduates calling them "golden eggs." Nevertheless, they unanimously have reduced the recruitment. Banks now employ no high school students. In Japan's principal industries such as electrical machinery, automobile and steel, very few high school students are employed. Small- and medium-sized enterprises have taken their place in recruiting the graduates of technical and commercial courses.

      Companies' arbitrary way of canceling the offer has drawn great attention. On September 8, shortly before September 16, the officially recognized day of the start of the employment exam, the P&G, an American company based in Akashi City, Hyogo Prefecture, retracted the job offer without notice. 18 students, who had already decided to apply to this company, had to rush to seek jobs at other companies or even change their course and go on to college or other schools. These students suffered serious mental damage at the time of choosing their future courses. Later, through the campaign launched by the local residents and the negotiations they had with the government, the Hyogo Prefecture authorities and the job placement office jointly demanded the P&G to withdraw its plan to reduce new recruitment. Efforts to support the students also rapidly grew nationwide. However, the P&G, in spite of the good business results achieved by its Hyogo factory that produces paper diapers, has not yet announced it will start recruiting high school students, using as a pretext "worldwide review of production and business."

      Apart from such an outrageous way of recruitment by transnational and major companies, these companies have made public their plans of closing factories and streamlining. Nissan recently announced that it would cut 21,000 workforce and NTT, 20,000. All these are major causes of the job shortage.

3. High School Students Lose Hope and Will

      The decrease in job offers and imbalance of applicable job types deprive high school students of hope for their future and will to study. On September 16, employment exams by companies started, but the situation is so grave as seen in the reports from teachers that said: "20 percent of the students could not apply," or "40 percent of the students who took the exams failed." As a result, students who have not found a job become more discontent. Some say that they do not know the purpose of study, and others complain that they cannot use what they have studied. Such reactions have posed a problem to high school education. Many students become desperate and say, "I was born at a wrong time," or "will not try to get a job any more." Difficulty of finding employment has left a deep scar and distrust among students, and wild conducts by the students become visible, the situation can be described as "disorder caused by job scarcity."

      An extraordinary nature of the companies has also become conspicuous. They look as if they want to bully the brokenhearted high school students. The first is their violation of the rule. To avoid confusion in school life, the Education and Labor Ministries give an administrative guidance to companies on recruitment of high school students, that they should carry out employment exams and decide employment after September 16. However, many companies still conduct applicant screening and interview in August during summer vacation, when students visit companies, to choose recruits in secret. Taking advantage of the present tight job market due to job shortage, more companies try to secure prospective employees before others get the chance. The situation is so serious that students who took the exam on September 16 were rejected because the companies had "already chosen the recruits." Here I must point out the responsibility of school authorities in the increase of earlier recruitment by companies against the rule. Some of them help the companies violate the rule by preparing necessary documents for the students. Apart from a strict administrative guidance to the violators, reflection and efforts by teachers are necessary for establishing a fair job-seeking activity. It is particularly important for them to understand the position of those high school students who have rejected a chance of recruitment, due to the companies' "early recruitment" against the rule.

      The second is human rights violation by companies. Reports come from all over the country telling that while interviewing companies investigate the applicants' family and ideological background or conduct sexual harassment, and that they discriminate applicants according to their appearance in choosing recruits. Such illegal, unjust acts that infringe human rights originate in the nature of companies based on a wrong viewpoint on workers that lacks awareness of human rights. They recognize workers not as human beings but only as parts of a machine or commodities that can be replaced anytime. This nature of companies is also a cause of their mindless conduct of human rights violation, such as discriminating workers according to their union affiliation and ill-treating workers. This situation has no parallel in any other developed countries. It is necessary to impose strict sanction on the companies conducting illegal acts, and to review the contents of the personal history and other necessary forms to make them acceptable by international standards.

4. The Government and Financial Circles Promote the Destruction of Employment

      Facing the present job shortage, the government and financial circles have not taken any effective measures but to adopt a policy of aggravating the tight job situation. On the unemployment problem of young people, the Japan Federation of Employers' Associations (Nikkeiren) says: "interruption of employment that will lead to a 'hollowing out of technology and skills' must be avoided." At the same time it declares a policy "toward a society with a highly developed information industry, industrial reorganization is a supreme proposition." From this point of view, it adopts a business strategy to push ahead with a massive dismissal under the pretext that it is "unavoidable for companies' survival." The government follows the financial circles and the United States and takes a policy of abandoning agriculture, Japan's key industry, education and welfare.

      Particularly, the Nikkeiren's strategy called "Japanese management in the new era" takes an employment flexibility policy that applies increases of profits as the only measure of values, and aims completely to abolish regular employment. According to this policy, it pressed the government to force the adverse revision of the Employment Security Act to liberalize job placement, and of the Staffing Service Law to make flexible supply of workforces available. Nikkeiren insists that such a "liberalized and flexible" employment represent a "management respectful of human beings" that suit "what young people themselves call for."

5. Toward a Society Where Young People Can Find Meaning in Their Life

      Is it really true that young people frequently change their occupation without having a regular employment because they seek for a "free job"? In an opinion poll about learning, lifestyle and prospect after graduation among High-school students" conducted by JSTU and High School Education Study Committee in 1997, they asked to the respondents, "what do you think of your future way of work?"(plural answers acceptable). To this question, 62.38 percent of the respondents answered that they wanted to be employed at a place where "their special abilities are recognized." 57.12 percent said they wanted to have a "job worth working for." These two were at the top among other answers. The Japanese Broadcasting Corporation; NHK televised on October 8 a special program "Why did you leave your job?" The program took up the fact that young workers, who make up 46 percent of the high school graduates and 32 percent of the university graduates, leave their job in three years after recruitment. The characteristic was that young person that appeared in the program equally gave the companies' despotic nature to rule over the workers as the reasons for their resignation. They said that they decided to quit because they "saw the way of work of those in their forties and fifties, who always try to avoid being scolded by their superiors," and because "the job was different from what they had explained." A managerial staff member also spoke in the program and criticized young people saying; "Today's youth do not know to be patient." It was also pointed out that in a questionnaire 62 percent of salaried workers wanted a "job worth working for."@

      These facts underscore the actual situation of high school graduates. Failed to find among the very limited offers a job that they really suit for, high school graduates would get a job to satisfy the expectations of school authorities and parents, but in the end they decided to leave the undemocratic workplaces under the despotic rule by the company.

      From the workplace, JSTU denounces the actual situation of job shortage. It gives more importance than ever to negotiations with the central and local governments to make them respect the people's right to work and strictly observe the international labor standards. It promotes united efforts with a broader range of organizations that work for a democratic development of the local economy. And it participates in the movement to establish a system to regulate arbitrarily conducts by big and transnational companies. Through these efforts, JSTU is doing its utmost to find a way out of the difficulty of finding job facing students.

      The author is a Vice Chair, Japan Senior High School Teachers and Staffs' Union.