employment, welfare, yomiuri shinbun

Job recovery slow in Tohoku / Residents fearful as unemployment benefits expire, yomiuri, 3/9/12

Nearly one year since the Great East Japan Earthquake, the unemployment situation in the Tohoku region is still dire, particularly in the severely hit Pacific coastal area, where about 65,000 people are still looking for jobs, according to the labor ministry.

Among those who lost their jobs in the disaster and began receiving unemployment insurance benefits, 2,163 people’s benefits expired as of Feb. 17, before they were able to find new jobs.

A maximum of 10,000 people’s benefits are expected to expire by the end of April, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry said.

In Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures, the ratios of employment offers to job seekers at six of 10 Hello Work public job placement offices were less than the national average in January.

“This is the last payment, you know.”

So Toshihiro Onodera, 36, of Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture, was told at a local Hello Work office early last month, meaning that his benefits had ended.

After the disaster, Onodera was dismissed from the fish wholesaler where he worked. The company’s building was rendered totally unusable by the tsunami following the quake. Onodera has been waiting for the wholesaler to resume operations before looking for a new job, but it is still closed for business. He used to receive about 120,000 yen in unemployment insurance benefits each month, but this has now been discontinued.

To save money, he eats canned items and other donated foods sent by well-wishers across the nation to assist quake survivors. He has also tried to make as few cell phone calls as possible. Although his 33-year-old wife is expected to give birth to their first child this summer, their savings are running out.

“I’m always thinking about how to live tomorrow and the day after tomorrow,” Onodera said.

According to the ministry, 3,510 quake survivors had their benefits expire on Feb. 17. Of them, 62 percent had not been able to find jobs before then.

In Sendai, the ratio of employment offers to job seekers is better than those of other areas in the disaster-hit region, as some companies outside the prefecture began operations to help local reconstruction via employment.

However, in coastal areas where many seafood processing companies have yet to resume operations, ratios of job offers to job seekers are still low, according to the ministry.

A 40-year-old man of Higashi-Matsushima, who was dismissed from a gardening company after the disaster, had his benefits expire on Feb. 28. This happened to coincide with the expiration of benefits for his 34-year-old wife, who was similarly dismissed from a seafood processing company. Their monthly benefits of 200,000 yen have now disappeared.

As the man used to work as a truck driver, he went to seven interviews, mainly for delivery companies. But none of them hired him. His wife was initially looking for a job at another seafood processing company. But she is now ready to accept any job, the man said.

The couple has two children, one in primary school and the other in kindergarten. To feed them, the man began working at a construction company as a temporary worker on Monday. “I needed to accept the job offer, although the work is new to me,” the man said.

He dismantles buildings that were hit in the disaster at his new job, while continuing to look for a regular employee’s post.

The ministry plans to increase chances for disaster survivors to be employed as regular employees by providing subsidies to companies that hire them. Under the program, the ministry aims to have about 4,800 disaster victims employed by the end of this fiscal year and 50,000 people hired by the end of fiscal 2015 as long-term workers.

(Mar. 9, 2012)

About liz

from the u.s., recently moved from kobe to sendai, japan, researching community-based housing recovery after disaster.

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