The number of child-rearing households living on an income below the public welfare assistance level has doubled over the last 20 years despite the fact that the number of children has been declining, according to research conducted by Yamagata University associate professor Kensaku Tomuro.
Tomuro also calculated "child poverty rates" by prefecture, the first attempt of its kind in Japan. The survey found that over 10 percent of child-rearing households in 39 prefectures were living in poverty, underscoring the fact that child poverty was worsening throughout the country.
Tomuro analyzed data such as the "Employment Status Survey" conducted by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications every five years to look into the employment status of people. Tomuro checked the trend for 20 years of the number of households with children at age 17 or younger living on an income which is below the minimum cost of living, a condition in which people are eligible to receive public welfare assistance.
The latest survey found that the number of child-rearing households in poverty that stood at about 700,000 in 1992 had doubled to about 1.46 million in 2012. On the other hand, the number of child-rearing households dropped about 20 percent to about 10.55 million in 2012 from about 12.93 million in 1992. Thus, the "child poverty rate" (the ratio of households in poverty with children at age 17 or younger to all households with children in the same age bracket) rose about 2.6 fold to 13.8 percent in 2012 from 5.4 percent in 1992.
By prefecture, Okinawa topped the list of poverty rates at 37.5 percent, followed by Osaka at 21.8 percent, Kagoshima 20.6 percent, Fukuoka 19.9 percent, Hokkaido 19.7 percent, and so on. Of the top 10 prefectures on the list, eight were concentrated in western Japan. Only eight prefectures had a poverty rate of less than 10 percent, with Fukui at the lowest rate of 5.5 percent. All other prefectures registered a poverty rate of 10 percent or higher. Furthermore, as compared with the results of the previous survey conducted in 2007, the latest survey found that the poverty rates in prefectures in the metropolitan area such as Saitama, Chiba and Kanagawa as well as those in the Chukyo area such as Shizuoka had risen above the national average.
The government, too, calculates "child poverty rates" based on the "Comprehensive Survey of Living Conditions" conducted by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare. The government released only the national average. The latest government statistics showed the national average rate of 16.3 percent in 2012. But there are no major changes over time in child poverty rates calculated by the government's method, which regards all people living on an income of less than half of the average income as being in relative poverty. Even in 1991, the child poverty rate was 12.8 percent. In contrast, Tomuro was able to see the reality of poverty more closely by calculating the child poverty rates based on minimum costs of living that vary from prefecture to prefecture and due to other factors such as the number of people per household.
Tomuro said, "The leveling-off of poverty rates at high levels is taking place. It is important for the government to take the initiative in implementing measures and welfare benefits should be fully funded by government coffers."