Pandemic reveals hidden poverty in wealthy Japan -- Jan 20
With an unemployment rate below three percent and a reputation for a strong social safety net, Japan also appears well placed to weather the pandemic's economic fallout.

But campaigners say the most vulnerable have still been hit hard, with statistics masking the high rate of underemployment and poorly paid temporary work.

"The pandemic, rising joblessness and falling wages have directly hit the working poor, people who were barely getting by before," said Ren Ohnishi, who heads the Moyai Support Centre for Independent Living, an anti-poverty group.

Around 40 percent of workers are in vulnerable "non-regular" jobs with lower wages and contracts that can be terminated easily.

Many also struggle to access welfare.

More than 10 million people in Japan live on less than $19,000 a year, while one in six lives in "relative poverty" on incomes less than half the national median.

Economists say that half a million Japanese lost their jobs in the past six months, and campaigners say the ripple effects are spreading across the population.

Experts warn the economic pain may be contributing to a rise in the suicide rate seen towards the end of last year.

A one percent point rise in Japan's unemployment rate translates into roughly 3,000 additional suicides a year, according to Taro Saito of the NLI Research Institute.

Women in particular are facing economic hardship because many work on temporary contracts in retail, restaurants and hotels -- all industries hit hard by the pandemic.

Experts say women often hesitate to seek help or to join men in queues for food, but even so, they are now seeing more women and mothers with small children at outreach events.

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