July 28, 2006


The Face of Poverty Ages In Rapidly Graying Japan (Anthony Faiola, 7/28/06, Washington Post)

As the world's most rapidly graying nation struggles to cope with the exploding costs of its aging population, it is cutting back its famed safety net of universal health care, generous pensions and welfare benefits for seniors of all social classes. But those already living on the margins are being hit the hardest.

Over the past decade, the number of indigent seniors nationwide skyrocketed by 183 percent to about half a million people, Welfare Ministry statistics show. Most of them are victims of the protracted recession that Japan endured in the '90s, and many have been abandoned by children bucking the Japanese tradition of living with one's elderly parents.

The creation of a new underclass of the down, out and old in Japan -- a country that long prided itself on being a "one-class society" -- is giving public housing complexes the feel of poor retirement communities. Almost one in every two people on welfare in Japan is now 65 or older, the government here reports. By comparison, roughly one in 10 welfare recipients in the United States are senior citizens, according to U.S. government statistics.

The homeless population expanded rapidly during the recession years and now numbers about 30,000, according to advocacy groups. An official survey in 2003 put the average age of the homeless at 56. The government requires seniors to have a fixed address to receive welfare, so many on the streets are getting no support.

Now the Japanese economy -- the world's second-largest -- is in the midst of a buoyant recovery. But the country is moving toward a more American-style system of senior services by shifting the burden of care from the government to the elderly themselves.

"The government talks about how we need to be more independent and care for ourselves now," said Kakizaki. "But we are old. How are we supposed to become independent at our age? How can they even ask us to?"

In the wake of WWII, American policy makers were so terrified of communism that they were only too happy to establish or re-establish socialism in Japan and Europe, making entire nations into welfare dependents not unlike our urban poor--except for the lack of kids. Among the costs of the Cold War was the sacrifice of these putative allies.

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 28, 2006 9:40 AM

I don't think the elites were terrified of Communism, I think they wanted Socialism, and used Europe and Japan as laboratories and advertising for a system they couldn't sell back home. If you read 'Leftism', you will find that the Democrats and the State department were fine with the Communists, until McCarthy and Nixon made it an issue. When they lost a few elections, they played to the public, while holding them in contempt in private.

Posted by: Robert Mitchell Jr. at July 28, 2006 10:46 AM

Working my way through Leftism, which is terrific, thanks.

The flunkies didn't matter--it was Truman, Marshall, etc..

Posted by: oj at July 28, 2006 10:50 AM

Too bad for them. They had plenty of opportunity to emulate a proven success--the US. They had plenty of chance to plagerize our 4 page Constitution, but didn't. Nobody forced them to take the path they chose, and plenty of people (Hayek, von Mises, etc.) wrote quite clearly about what the end result would be.

So, too bad for them. But soon a more successful society will move into the soon-to-be-vacant land that they've been caretaking.

Reminds me of an old saying: "People who will not defend their land with force-of-arms are merely caretakers of that land for those who will."

Posted by: fred at July 28, 2006 3:42 PM

The Constitution works because a Judeo-Christian people desire the ends enunciated in the Preamble. Japan lacked the necessary pre-conditions.

Posted by: oj at July 28, 2006 3:47 PM

Yeah, we defeated and nearly destroyed two nations with long-standing militarist traditions, gave them new governments and 50 years later they turn out to be drones well-into a long, pleasant senescence.

Of course, we're too incompetent for there to be any connection...

Posted by: David Cohen at July 28, 2006 5:20 PM

Yes, if the Federal Government reeally is that competent then we should support totalitarianism.

Posted by: oj at July 28, 2006 6:09 PM

"Almost one in every two people on welfare in Japan is now 65 or older, the government here reports. By comparison, roughly one in 10 welfare recipients in the United States are senior citizens" The question I have is: why are so many youngish Americans receiving welfare?

Who have been paying welfare for retirees previously? Working taxpayers, of course. These workers don't have much left to save after the humongous income taxes they have to pay to support other's welfare. Now when they are old and cannot work, they are expected to have savings to pay for their own retirement.

Posted by: ic at July 29, 2006 5:07 AM

"drones well-into a long, pleasant senescence"

Well not exactly. This Japanese TV show gives real meaning to the word "Jeopardy"

Posted by: h-man at July 29, 2006 4:00 PM