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30% of Japan job-seekers see coronavirus impact on unemployment: Mainichi survey

Many people looking for work visit a "Hello Work" public employment security office in Tokyo. (Mainichi/Lee Youngho)

TOKYO -- A Mainichi Shimbun survey of 100 people using services provided by "Hello Work" public employment security offices nationwide found that 30% of respondents believe "the spread of the novel coronavirus has had a great impact" on their unemployment status.

This result comes in contrast to March's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate announced on April 28, which was only 0.1 point worse than the previous month.

The Mainichi survey was conducted April 21-24 primarily in urban areas of 16 prefectures, including Tokyo, Osaka, Fukuoka, Aichi and Hokkaido. Respondents were limited to people who had lost their jobs in January or later, and were between their teens to their 70s. There were 56 men, and 44 women.

To the question, "Do you think that the spread of the novel coronavirus influenced your unemployment?" 30 of those surveyed said they believed "the virus's spread has had a large impact." Meanwhile, 18 people said they believed "the virus's spread has had some impact," meaning that 48 respondents -- or almost half of all those surveyed -- believed the coronavirus's spread had impacted their unemployment status.

Of those 48 people, the greatest number, at 27, were unemployed due to layoffs or contract terminations. Four were jobless because their employer went bankrupt, and two were unemployed due to withdrawals of informal job offers from would-be employers.

With the exception of one person who did not answer the question, of the 48 people, 20 were regular employees, while 27 were contract or otherwise non-regular workers. Meanwhile, the ratio flips among the 52 of the 100 surveyed who said that they believed the coronavirus outbreak and their unemployment were unrelated. With the exception of those who did not provide answers, 35 were regular employees and 14 were non-permanent staff.

Of the 48, 32 had lost their jobs in late March on. Thirteen of those people lost their jobs after a state of emergency was declared by the Japanese government initially for seven prefectures including Tokyo on April 7. There were cases in which people were directly affected by the government's calls for certain businesses to cease operations, as with a 48-year-old man in Tokyo who was dismissed from his job at a dining establishment.

One 27-year-old man in the southwestern prefecture of Miyazaki, who had got a job with an IT firm in Tokyo on condition that he would telework, was asked by his employer to cut his days on the job. The reason given was that the company was set to lose several tens of millions of yen worth of work due to the coronavirus outbreak. The man quit out of fear that his income would plummet, but he has been unable to find any temporary work to tide him over until he finds his next position. He has a pregnant wife and a 1-year-old son, and said, "We're dipping into our savings to get by. A one-off 100,000-yen handout from the government is not going to be enough."

A 41-year-woman who lives in Chiba Prefecture, east of Tokyo, with her son, a third-grader, lost her job as a dental hygienist in January. Although this was unrelated to the spread of the novel coronavirus, she has not made much progress on getting a new job. Most prospective employers tell her that they'll interview her after the coronavirus outbreak has subsided.

Not being able to work overtime because she has a young child also seems to be working against her. "I bought a house two years ago with a 35-year mortgage, but if I still don't have a job in June, my payments will begin to pile up," she said.

A 51-year-old man in Saitama Prefecture, north of Tokyo, who used to work at an ink manufacturing company, is at his wit's end. "I'm not being choosy, but no one is hiring," he said. "I live with my younger sister, and pretty soon, our cell phone service will be cut off."

Many have also been terminated from contract jobs.

A 52-year-old man in the central Japan prefecture of Aichi who was working as a non-regular employee at a logistics company handling auto parts was terminated at the end of March as parts production had stopped. "I have to leave the company dorm where I live by the end of April, but I have no savings, and no money for moving fees. Unless I can find a job, I might have to go on welfare. I want to be exempt from paying taxes like residence tax," he said.

Meanwhile, a 56-year-old woman in the southwestern Japanese prefecture of Kumamoto, whose contract clerical job was terminated a month early, said, "There are very few jobs out there. It's never been this hard to find work."

It appears that many companies' performance began to suffer rapidly around March to April when the spread of the novel coronavirus turned serious in Japan.

In Tokyo, a 27-year-old regular employee for a travel agency specialized in serving corporate customers was dismissed in mid-March after the company's performance deteriorated due to a series of cancellations.

A 65-year-old man in the western Japan prefecture of Hyogo who worked the front desk of a hotel also said that he was dismissed around mid-April due to a some 50% drop in customers. One 27-year-old woman in Tokyo received an informal job offer from a company selling office equipment, but that offer was retracted after she was told that their sales had gone down by 60%, forcing her to start looking for another job about a week ago.

A 48-year-old Tokyo man who worked nine part-time jobs, including one as a parking lot attendant and one at a restaurant, said, "I lost all my jobs by April due to the effects of the novel coronavirus. If (the government) is going to call on businesses to suspend operations, it should provide compensation."

Many establishments in the dining industry have been forced to shorten their hours or shut down temporarily. A 27-year-old Osaka woman who worked at a "kyabakura" establishment in which women attend to male customers was dismissed when the establishment closed its doors. She sighed as she said, "It would be nice if we could receive rent subsidies" from the municipal and national governments.

When the 100 surveyed were asked what they were worried about regarding their current circumstances and their futures, 56 responded that they were concerned that they did not have enough money to live on. Five said they feared they would lose a place to live.

(Japanese original by Kenji Tatsumi, Yuka Narita, Kazuki Mogami, and Asako Takeuchi, City News Department, and Lee Youngho, Machida Resident Bureau)

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