According to the results of the Basic Survey of the Life of the People released by the Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare on July 15, Japan's child poverty rate, which indicates the ratio of children under 18 living in households earning less than half of the average income, reached the worst-ever level of 16.3% in 2012. This was 0.6 points higher than the previous survey in 2009. In addition, the relative poverty rate, which indicates the ratio of the people (including adults aged 18 years or over) with low incomes, rose 0.1 point over the previous survey to 16.1%. So the child poverty rate exceeded the relative poverty rate for the first time since statistics began in 1985.
As a reason for this trend, it is pointed out that the number of mother-child households has increased and many working mothers have nonregular jobs. The number of mother-child households rose by 267,000 from 554,000 in 1989 to 821,000 in 2013. The child poverty rate jumps to 54.6% in single-parent households, far exceeding the level of 12.4% in households with two or more adult members. Among the 34 member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Japan ranks 25th in terms of its child poverty rate and 33rd in terms of its single-parent household poverty rate.
The average number of household members in all households in 2012 was 2.51 persons, and the average annual income was 5,372,000 yen, down 110,000 (2.0%) from the previous year and the fourth lowest level since statistics began. The figure was 19.1% less than the level in 1994, when household income reached a peak of 6,642,000 yen. Furthermore, the average number of children in households with children was 1.70 persons, and the average annual income of such households was 6,732,000 yen, down 3.4% from the previous year. In contrast, the average annual income of mother-child households was 2,434,000 yen, less than half of the figure for all households. Of this income, income from work accounted for 1,790,000 yen, income from social security benefits for 493,000 yen, and other income for the rest. Asked about their living conditions, 84.7% of mother-child households replied that they faced economic hardships ("very hard" 49.5% and "rather hard" 35.2%). The survey results show clearly that mother-child households face severe economic conditions due to their low income.
Enforcement of the Child Poverty Act
Against the background of such conditions, the Child Poverty Act was enacted and enforced from January 2014. The aim of this law is to establish an environment in which children living in a state of poverty are brought up healthily so that a child's future is not influenced by conditions of birth and upbringing and to comprehensively promote child poverty countermeasures in order to guarantee equal educational opportunities. The central and local governments are cooperating closely to provide educational support, livelihood support, job support for parents, and economic assistance, as well as to conduct fact-finding surveys on child poverty and so on.
Owing to the cautious stance of the ruling parties, the Child Poverty Act does not include any specific numerical targets as proposed by the opposition Democratic Party of Japan. In its policy and system demands to the government, and at the time of the government's budget compilation, RENGO (Japanese Trade Union Confederation) is calling for effective measures to help the needy, including measures to counter child poverty.