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Gov't, ruling camp intend not to release real wage data to avoid further criticism

The Central Government Building No. 5 in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward that houses the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry is seen in this file photo. (Mainichi/Kimi Takeuchi)

TOKYO -- The government and ruling coalition now intend to turn down a demand from the opposition bloc to recalculate data and release real wage estimates for January through November 2018, people familiar with the situation have told the Mainichi Shimbun.

The refusal is a bid to evade criticism that previously announced figures were padded to make the government's economic policies appear successful, according to the individuals.

The opposition alleges the announced data -- based on the Monthly Labor Survey conducted by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare -- are corrupted because the ministry carried out the survey improperly for 15 years starting in 2004 and then began applying statistical adjustments secretly from January 2018. The poll collects information about wages and working hours from employers.

Opposition parties allege that the 2018 changes were made to pad wage growth figures and emphasize the success of the Abenomics policy mix of monetary easing and economic stimulus promoted by the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

The problem with the Monthly Labor Survey caused tens of billions of yen in work-related benefit payment shortfalls affecting tens of millions of people. The issue has been the main focus of debate during the current ordinary session of the Diet, forcing the ruling coalition into damage control mode.

A calculation of shifts in real wages adjusted for inflation from January through November 2018 by the opposition shows that nine out of the 11 months saw negative growth from the previous year. In contrast, the data previously announced by the labor ministry show that only six months of the period saw annual real wage drops. Real wage figures are said to reflect how people really feel about the economy compared with nominal numbers without inflation adjustments.

Labor minister Takumi Nemoto effectively acknowledged at the Feb. 5 meeting of the House of Representatives Budget Committee that the opposition calculation is valid. But he was negative about responding to their demand that the government recalculate data and release real wage estimates.

People close to the labor ministry say that if the government did make such a calculation, the results "would possibly be similar" to the opposition numbers. The government apparently wants to keep such data to itself because releasing them would provide the opposition with a fresh, official reason to continue its attack on the alleged wage data window-dressing.

"Focusing only on those numbers for just 11 months, when other economic data are available, may cause misunderstanding among the people," said a senior labor ministry official.

In the Monthly Labor Survey, the labor ministry polled only some employers with 500 or more workers in Tokyo from 2004, violating its survey plan to cover all companies of that size. Moreover, the ministry changed some of the covered employers from January 2018 and adjusted data secretly to bring the numbers closer to the figures that would have been produced had the survey been conducted properly. As a result, wage increases announced by the ministry are estimated to have been higher than the actual numbers.

The labor ministry has released nominal annual wage shifts from January through November 2018 based on the same set of employers queried before and during the period.

Labor minister Nemoto told the lower house budget committee that recalculating real wage shifts for the 11-month period would be "based on a smaller sample numbers, and experts say the margin of error would expand," indicating his unwillingness to release such figure. A person linked with the ruling camp argued that the opposition calculation of real wages is "mechanical."

(Japanese original by Ai Yokota, Medical Welfare News Department, and Shunsuke Kamiashi, City News Department)

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