Date: Sun, 19 May 1996 09:37:52 -0500
From: L-Soft list server at MIZZOU1 (1.8b) <>

--> Database ACTIV-L, 8021 hits.

> print 07962
>>> Item number 7962, dated 96/05/18 02:07:28—ALL
Date: Sat, 18 May 1996 02:07:28 GMT
Sender: Activists Mailing List <ACTIV-L@MIZZOU1.MISSOURI.EDU>
From: Rich Winkel <>
Organization: PACH
Subject: Women Hit Hard In Japan Job Crisis

/** 215.0 **/
** Topic: Women Hit Hard In JPN Job Crisis **
** Written 3:59 PM May 15, 1996 by labornews in **
From: Institute for Global Communications <>

Japan slump dries up jobs—and hopes

By Cynthia Mayer, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Sunday 12 May 1996

Suddenly, college grads can't find work. Hardest hit are the women.

TOKYO—The first inkling of her future employment nightmare came to Yoko Nagaura last fall.

Soon after enrolling in classes at a small junior college, she discovered that the previous year's seniors were still hanging around campus—dressed in what the Japanese call recruito-suits and competing with current seniors for the few jobs being offered through on-campus interviews.

Determined not to become a jobless graduate herself, Nagaura, 19, now takes a long subway ride to the north side of Tokyo each week, where she visits the city's student employment agency and copies out long lists of potential employers from heavy binders.

But there's one problem. Of 41,000 job listings at the center, only 6,000 are open to women.

Nagaura is neatly dressed, self-assured and articulate, with a taste for the kind of conservative clothes that leave her resembling a Japanese version of a Katharine Gibbs School graduate. She wants to work at a financial company, and, in better times, probably would have landed a job quickly.

But Japan's economy has been in a six-year slump, and for women college graduates, work has been especially difficult to find for the last two years.

This spring, after the country's March 1 graduations, a record 76,000 graduating seniors, or about 11 percent, still remained jobless. Of those, the majority were women: about 15 percent of the women graduates of four-year colleges, compared with 8 percent of the male graduates.

At junior colleges, only 78.9 percent of graduates had found work as of March, and so the proportion of women fighting for jobs was even higher.

The job market is very tight, says Nagaura quietly. But, basically, it doesn't matter if the labor market is oversupplied if I know what I want to do and make early preparation. Every year there are students who get their first- or second-choice job—so why not her, she implies.

Japan's economy has been scraping along with almost no growth since early 1990, when the stock market and real estate market and yen all collapsed at once. The collapse followed Japan's famous bubble economy during the 1980s, in which low interest rates and a high yen fed a frenzy of real estate and stock speculation, creating a kind of roaring '20s atmosphere in which the suddenly rich Japanese scooped up everything from Van Goghs to the Pebble Beach., Calif., golf course.

Before the crash, top male students could expect to be heavily recruited for lifetime employment at one of the country's prestigious listed companies—large companies listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange. Women saw greater opportunities, too: A shortage of workers and a 1986 law mandating more equal working conditions for both sexes caused some companies to recruit women for management positions, where once they had been consigned to office flower work of making tea and photocopying.

The years from 1989 to 1992 were especially good for women, says Yoshinobu Kawamura, a labor economist at Sanwa Research Institute Corp. in Tokyo. His own company, Sanwa Bank, among others, increased the number of women recruitments for nonclerical work, says Kawamura. But still, the number was very small.

But gradually, all that has changed, says Kawamura, and this is the worst year for graduates that anyone can remember.

At the Tokyo Student Employment Center, a government-run office that's the nerve center for college graduates seeking jobs these days, roughly 140 students a day visit the center, 40 percent of them recent graduates still looking for a job.

The center is a fluorescent-lit room with the quiet of a library. Students sign in, help themselves to shelves filled with references of business names, and then sit down at long formica tables to copy them out.

Students are scrambling for less and less desirable jobs, especially this spring, says Akira Araki, head of the center and a Labor Ministry official. At some offices, they don't hire anybody, even though they were recruiting hundreds a year earlier, he says.

Not all the students have been quick enough to grasp the obstacles facing them, says Araki. He still gets young men from the best universities who are astounded to discover they can't get their first choice in jobs.

But they can't believe in that myth anymore, he says.

Rather than settle for a disappointing career path, some students are returning to college for an extra year, says Araki. Others take five-month internships being offered for the first time by the Labor Ministry. Still others, like Yoko Nagaura, start their job searches a year ahead of time.

But it's harder for women, acknowledges Araki.

Companies feel free to advertise separate jobs for men and for women, and expect to promote and use them differently, Araki and others say. Men are hired under the assumption that they will stay for life, while women are hired under the assumption they will leave with their first child.

Thus, training women for a lifetime management career is against the whole Japanese lifetime system, says Kawamura, the labor economist. If she quits, they will have trained her for nothing.

Then, too, most of the hiring decisions in companies are made by senior, older men who have traditional views of women—some of which are reinforced by law. A Japanese labor law says employers cannot force women to work late at night or seven days a week. In a driven country like Japan, where there's a special word for death by overwork, that in itself can be a deterrent.

The solution for women seeking jobs has always been clerical work. But even this route seems to be drying up.

Since 1992, studies show a sharp drop in the number of female clerical workers hired by Japanese corporations. Corporations have cut their female clerks at roughly twice the rate they have cut male clerks.

What has happened, says labor economist Kawamura, is that corporations retained male clerks under the lifetime employment system but lost many of their female clerks as they left to raise families.

Because pay in Japan is based on seniority, the older male clerks hired receive pay raises each year, leaving less and less money to hire new workers. And so corporations are not replacing the women who leave, says Kawamura.

That's leaving women like Yoko Nagaura in a bind. Sitting in the employment office, dressed in a neat brown sweater suit, Nagaura said she was understanding of Japanese companies' unwillingness to hire women like her to become managers, because after they get a baby, in realistic aspect, sometimes it's harder to continue work.

So while she'd like to work in an office, she's also setting her sights on what she considers a lesser job. I am also applying for teaching jobs, she says.

Others in her situation are trying to get jobs through temporary agencies. But a manager at one of Japan's largest, Pasona, says that lately more and more men are leaving the lifetime employment system to apply for those jobs, making competition there fierce, too.

Japan's economy is improving, say most economists, but it takes six to 12 months for economic improvements to show up in new job offers.