Japan may suffer second "Lost Generation" of youth

Thu Apr 22, 2010 9:21am EDT
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By Linda Sieg

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japanese college student Hiroki was keen to graduate last month and start his first full-time job, but despite applying to 40 firms, from IT ventures to big media companies, nary an offer was in sight.

So Hiroki did what a growing number of students are doing to avoid joining what some experts fear will become a "Lost Generation" of young Japanese trapped in unstable, low-pay jobs. He stayed at university and kept looking.

"If you're a 'freeter', there's no security," said the slender, 23-year-old Hiroki, who declined to give his full name, referring to youth who flit from part-time job to part-time job after leaving school.

Japan already has one "Lost Generation" of youth stuck in insecure jobs as part-timers, contract workers and temps after failing to find steady employment when they graduated from high school or college during a hiring "Ice Age" from 1994 to 2004.

Now the country's leaders worry that a still-fragile recovery from Japan's worst recession in 60 years and cautious corporate hiring plans are putting a second batch of youth at risk, raising prospects of a further waste of human resources the country can ill afford as it struggles with an aging, shrinking population.

Experts share the concern, but critics charge that efforts by Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama's government to fix the problem, including planned new limits on employing temporary workers, fall short at best, or, at worst, aggravate the problem.

"What they should be doing is redressing the protection and security of the permanent workers, making it easier to change jobs, improving pension mobility, and making the differences (between regular and non-regular workers) narrower," said Richard Jerram, chief economist at Macquarie Securities (Japan) Limited.

"If you do the opposite, all that happens is that you reduce overall enthusiasm to hire. They are going about it in exactly the wrong way."   Continued...

<p>A Japanese new graduate, who wishes to be called Shinji, uses a computer at Tokyo Metropolitan Government Labor Consultation Center in Tokyo in this April 8, 2010 file photo. REUTERS/Yuriko Nakao</p>