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Low-income ratio among Fukushima nuke disaster evacuees nearly doubles: survey

Researchers at Kwansei Gakuin University's Institute of Disaster Area Revitalization, Regrowth and Governance announce the survey results in Nishinomiya, Hyogo Prefecture, on Nov. 27, 2020. (Mainichi/Motohiro Inoue)

A survey of households across Japan who evacuated after the March 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster has found that 1.7 times more of them were earning less than 3 million yen (about $28,800) annually as of 2019 compared to before the disaster.

    The survey by Kwansei Gakuin University's Institute of Disaster Area Revitalization, Regrowth and Governance in the Hyogo Prefecture city of Nishinomiya asked households what their total yearly incomes were before the meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station and what they were in 2019, eight years down the track.

    The results, released on Nov. 27, showed that a little over 20% of respondent households earned less than 3 million yen prior to the disaster. But close to 40% of the households gave the same response when it came to 2019 earnings.

    The institute distributed questionnaires to 4,876 evacuees between July and September this year through support bases and other channels, and 694 responded. Before the disaster, 522 respondents, or 75.2%, were living in Fukushima Prefecture. A total of 100 people, or 14.4%, had lived in areas that are now off-limits and deemed difficult to return to due to high radiation levels, while 140, or 20.2%, lived in areas where evacuation orders have now been lifted. Altogether, 417 respondents, or 60.1%, had voluntarily left areas not under evacuation orders, including some outside Fukushima Prefecture.

    Before the nuclear disaster, the most common range of household earnings, cited by 14.8% of respondents, was "from 3 million to under 4 million yen (about $38,000)" per year. But in 2019, the top answer was "from 2 million (about $19,200) to under 3 million yen," at 16% of the surveyed group. Looking at those who answered that their annual household earnings were under 3 million yen per year, the proportion rose from 22.7% before the disaster to 39.1% in 2019 -- an increase of 1.7 times. Close of 40% of respondents were aged in their 60s or over, and it is believed declining incomes due to retirement and old age played a part in the increase in low-income households.

    Restricting the results to people who had evacuated voluntarily, the proportion of those who answered that they were full-time homemakers practically halved over the same period, while the number of people answering that they were in non-regular employment or doing part-time jobs increased by 60%. In a question on the effects of the novel coronavirus, 10% of those who had evacuated voluntarily had lost their jobs, while 30% had seen their earnings fall by 50,000 yen (about $480) or more because of the outbreak.

    When looking at the situations of 117 single-mother evacuees, accounting for 16.9% of respondents, it emerged that 103 of them, or close to 90%, had evacuated voluntarily. A total of 50 of them were divorced single moms, while 44% of them had yearly earnings of under 2 million yen in 2019 -- 3.6 times more than before the disaster.

    Meanwhile, close to 70% of respondents said they had no intention of returning to the so-called difficult-to-return zones in Fukushima Prefecture or areas in the prefecture whose evacuation orders have been lifted. And 40% of those who evacuated voluntarily had no intention of returning to their hometowns.

    Shigeki Yamanaka, an adviser at the institute, commented, "Single-mother evacuees are being pressured into situations where they have to take on two or three jobs." He added, "There needs to be a basic income system guaranteeing a minimum income for people who evacuate in a nuclear disaster, as well as a fund to support those people."

    (Japanese original by Motohiro Inoue, Hanshin Bureau)

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