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The Yomiuri Shimbun (Nov. 30, 2009)
New growth strategy needed to protect jobs
At the end of last year, a large number of manufacturers across the nation fired temporary workers even before their work contracts expired. To help those who lost jobs, a civic group set up a tent camp, called Toshikoshi Hakenmura (village for temporary workers to see out the old year), in Tokyo's Hibiya Park. A year later, the country's employment situation has grown even more serious.
How effective will the government's emergency employment measures be? The government must do all it can to alleviate the severe employment situation as the year-end approaches.
Situation in rural areas bleak
Kitakami, a city located in the southwest of Iwate Prefecture, has some of the leading industrial parks in the country. Blessed with vast plains and abundant water, the city capitalizes on its good location connected to an expressway.
With a large number of leading companies having set up plants there, the city until recently enjoyed a reputation as having successful industrial parks where a variety of industries are concentrated. Yet the tide of recession is sweeping toward the city.
At Iwate Toshiba Electronics Co., a Toshiba Corp. subsidiary located in an industrial park in the northern part of the city, a vast plot of land lies vacant next to the firm's semiconductor plant.
Toshiba announced in 2008 it would build a new plant in Kitakami to produce cutting-edge NAND flash memory products. But the firm decided early this year to postpone construction of the plant due to flagging sales of semiconductors and a serious downturn in business. The site for the planned flash memory plant will soon see its second winter.
Under the initial plan, the plant was scheduled to start operation in spring 2010 and employ about 1,000 new workers.
About three years ago, the ratio of job offers to job seekers in the city rose to about 1.9 thanks to companies that flooded to the city to open new plants. As a result, the city ran short of workers. But now, the job-offers-to-job-seekers ratio has nosedived to about 0.3. Kitakami Mayor Akira Ito awaits the day when Toshiba decides to start the construction.
The mayor has been visiting companies with branches in the city, asking them to hire even one more employee, in what he calls his "plus one" campaign.
This situation is not confined in Kitakami, but can be seen across the country. NEC Corp. has closed its liquid crystal panel plant in Izumi, Kagoshima Prefecture, while Honda Motor Co. postponed operation of its new plant in Yoriimachi, Saitama Prefecture.
Listed companies' midterm earnings reports for the period ending in September showed that their business performance is improving. But they are still cautious about making capital investments as they strive to cut costs to be globally competitive.
The Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry announced Friday that the number of jobless people was 3.44 million in October, while the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 5.1 percent. The nation's job-offers-to-job-seekers ratio remains at a low level, at a seasonally adjusted 0.44.
Under its slogan of "From concrete to people," the administration of Prime Minister Yukio Hatomaya touts a policy shift that allocates taxpayers' money to programs related to people's lives, rather than to public works programs, as was seen in the past. This policy shift has slashed the number of public works projects, which local economies rely heavily on, dealing a heavy blow to the economies, which were already suffering from the ongoing wave of corporate restructuring.