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'Will I ever find work again?' Virus outbreak leaves one Japanese job-seeker in limbo

A man stares at a pamphlet given to him at a "Hello Work" public employment security office on April 3, 2020. The red diagonal lines indicate seminars that have been canceled. (Mainichi/Buntaro Saito)

TOKYO -- As the novel coronavirus outbreak wreaks havoc on Japan's economy and employment agencies cancel support sessions for the unemployed to curb the spread of the virus, one job-seeker in Tokyo has been left wondering if he'll ever find work again.

    "When I think that I might be unemployed forever, I have no hope for the future," a 35-year-old man from Tokyo's Kita Ward said, looking discouraged. He lost his job at the end of March, and is looking for work. He has thus far applied for roughly 30 jobs through a "Hello Work" public employment security office and private employment agencies, but over 80% of them have already turned him away.

    He's hoping that he'll get an interview with one of the few companies that have yet to reject him, but his expectations are low. He has been told by a staff member at a private employment agency that there were companies that had put out job openings but then retracted them in light of the economy's slowdown due to the spread of the coronavirus. "I think you'll be seeing a lot of rejections," she'd told him.

    According to the man, he had worked at a company that sold clothing and athletic equipment used at schools for about two years. Partly because he clashed with company executives, he left the company at the end of March. He had been in charge of sales, selling products at events at schools geared toward students' guardians. "With the temporary school closures, the sales events were being postponed or canceled," he said. "The company's performance must have been deteriorating." He feels that the spread of COVID-19 played a part in the loss of his job.

    From late March, he started going to Hello Work. However, events that would usually be hosted by Hello Work offices, such as interview sessions with businesses and seminars on how to write resumes, were canceled until the end of April. He doesn't feel he is making headway in his job search.

    Referring to the events and seminars, a Hello Work staffer in Tokyo commented, "We feel sorry for job-seekers, but considering the risk of infection, we can't avoid canceling them." Meanwhile, an official at the Tokyo Labor Bureau said, "We are avoiding events that involve large groups of people in line with instructions from the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare." The official explained that they were asking job-seekers to refrain from going to Hello Work offices for consultations, and instead were promoting phone consultation.

    According to the bureau, the number of new job openings in Tokyo from early to mid-March were approximately 10% down from the figure recorded during the same period in 2019. The number of job-seekers has fallen about 5% as well, but it is believed that this drop was due to an increase in people abstaining from visiting Hello Work offices. Thus, the actual number of job-seekers during that period has not been determined. "We are refraining from proactively providing assistance," the bureau official said. "Until the spread of the coronavirus calms down, it'll be difficult for us to take any other stance.

    On April 2, the 35-year-old man, wearing a black jacket, spent about three hours at Hello Work. He has already completed the process for collecting unemployment benefits, and job openings can be looked up online, so he doesn't need to be at the Hello Work office. Still, he has yet to tell his family that he is out of a job, so he goes out every day pretending to go to work.

    "It's a difficult situation, but I want to pull through somehow," he said. Then he briskly walked off toward a cafe where he said he would be spending his time until the evening.

    (Japanese original by Buntaro Saito, City News Department)

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