Quake disaster survivors see bleak future as unemployment benefits run out

The Mainichi Daily News
January 11, 2012

Quake disaster survivors see bleak future as unemployment benefits run out

Disaster survivors look for work at a Hello Work employment agency in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, on Jan. 6. (Mainichi)

Disaster survivors look for work at a Hello Work employment agency in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, on Jan. 6. (Mainichi)

Survivors of the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami will start losing their unemployment benefits this month as Japan marks 10 months since the disaster, though many of them are struggling to find work.

Unemployment benefits were earlier extended, but marine processing and other important industries in Miyagi and Iwate prefectures have still not recovered, and for many unemployed survivors, there are no immediate prospects of finding another job. In Fukushima Prefecture, meanwhile, people forced to evacuate due to the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant have had to look for jobs without knowing when — or even if — they will be able to return home.

Among those struggling to find work is 35-year-old Takahito Sato, who is supporting a wife and 4-year-old daughter. Sato was previously employed at a marine product processing firm in the Iwate Prefecture city of Ofunato.

“My unemployment benefit runs out at the end of January, but almost all of the work offered is for people with qualifications or experience using heavy machinery, and there’s nothing that suits me,” Sato lamented.

Officials at the Hello Work employment service center in Kamaishi, Iwate Prefecture, said that the job-offers-to-seekers ratio in Kamaishi and the town of Otsuchi stood at 0.20 in April 2011, the month after the disaster. In September, the ratio increased to 0.50, and in November it rose to 0.56, recovering beyond the level prior to the quake (0.48 in November 2010). However, the effective number of job seekers fell from 3,067 in April 2011 to 2,155 in September, and has remained stagnant since then. A mismatch between available jobs and the type of work people want to do has been blamed for this.

By job type, the job-offers-to-seekers ratio stood at 22.17 for security positions, as openings surged after the disaster. For construction work the ratio was 1.75, but for regular office work, and the sales and food processing industries, the ratio ranged between 0.2 and 0.3.

People affected by the Fukushima nuclear crisis have also faced tough employment conditions.

One 41-year-old resident who previously did nuclear power plant-related work in Fukushima Prefecture moved with his wife and child from the coastal town of Namie, to a shelter in the city of Fukushima, which is located inland. His unemployment benefit ends this month, meaning he will have to start digging into his savings to survive.

After the earthquake disaster, he received notification of employment from a recovery-related business in a coastal area of the prefecture, but his daughter has already changed schools twice since the disaster, and is just settling in to her new school. The man tried to look for work that would enable his daughter to attend the same school, but he worried about how soon he would be able to quit if radiation levels decreased and he was able to return to his hometown. He has called for more support from the government.

“My (unemployment) benefit is not something that the government has given me; it’s insurance that I’ve paid for by working. I want the government to further extend the benefit,” he said.

Masaru Hachisuka, who was previously living in a house in Futaba, about five kilometers from the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant, is now renting a home in Koriyama with his 50-year-old wife. The 52-year-old will be covered by unemployment insurance until the end of April, but he has still not been able to find work matching his skills.

“The emergency employment measures offered by local bodies provide only interim positions,” he says. To help find work he spent 150,000 yen attending a driving school and obtained a special license allowing him to work at a construction site.

Hachisuka’s wife worries about their situation.

“If we can’t return home, I want the government to clearly tell us that. What are we going to do if our time limit for renting a place to live expires? I’m also worried about my husband operating a vehicle at a construction site when he is past the age of 50,” she says.

Hachisuka’s reply is short.

“It’s all we can do,” he says.

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