The Mainichi answers some common questions readers may have about the shortage of child care workers in Japan and why their pay tends to be so low when compared with other industries.
Question: Is there a child care worker shortage in Japan?
Answer: There were about 450,000 people working at child care facilities across the country in 2014. However, it's estimated that there will be a shortfall of some 90,000 child care workers by the end of fiscal 2017. About 46,000 people took jobs in child care in 2014, but some 32,000 people also left the industry, so there's a serious turnover problem. Japan also apparently has nearly 800,000 "latent" child care workers -- people who have obtained the relevant qualifications but have never been employed in child care or those who have left jobs taking care of kids.
Q: So being a child care worker isn't very popular?
A: There are many people who feel it's a worthwhile job, but the low wages tend to keep them away. According to a 2013 study by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, among job seekers with child care worker qualifications, the number one reason for not working in child care was, "Wages do not meet my expectations," at 47.5 percent. In 2015, the average monthly salary for a child care worker was 220,000 yen, about 110,000 yen less than the average across all industries.
Q: Why is their pay so low?
A: Child care expenses are paid out of tax revenue, so costs -- including labor -- are fixed by the central government. The basic wage is set, and even in the face of a child care worker shortage, it's hard to raise. The basic wage was raised by 3 percent in April 2015, using the extra revenues generated by the consumption tax hike. Even so, regular child care workers make about 200,000 yen per month, and child care facility heads only 250,000 yen.
Q: So, there's nothing that can be done?
A: A 2 percent pay rise (or around 6,000 yen per month, including bonuses) is included in the government's "dynamic engagement of all citizens" plan put together this month. The government appears to have put aside about 50 billion yen to fund this increase, pressured by the recent public outcry over long waiting lists for day care places.
Q: Does anything else need to be done besides raising wages?
A: Some 67 percent of respondents to a 2013 Tokyo Metropolitan Government survey of the latent child care worker labor force said that, should they go back into the industry, their top concerns would be the number of working days and commute time. This suggests that it's also important to create a good working environment to lure people back into child care jobs. (Answers by Eriko Horii, Health and Welfare News Department)