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Japan: A Land of Old Criminals

The third economic power of the world is facing aging population problems. The Statistics Bureau of Japan showed in 2018 that elderly people (65 years and over) accounted for 27.7%, whereas the child population (0-14 years old) accounted for 12.3% of Japan’s population in 2017. Are Japanese people getting older nonstop? The economic growth of Japan shows exemplary advances within the worldwide economy: however human groups, such as the old population, struggle to maintain a minimum standard of living. The country is specialized in exports such as machinery and transportation. Also, Japan brings to the world economy important technological innovations, for instance, leading the wide market of industrial robot production. Investments increase progressively as Japan is a safe and profitable place for national and foreign investors. Nevertheless, people are getting old quicker than in other developed countries. The population growth is constantly dropping and aged population rate is continuously increasing. Living expenses are so high that a considerable number of elderly citizens cannot afford living expenses. In such a desperate feeling to survive, an increasing number of old Japanese see in jail a way to escape from the economic struggles for having food and shelter as a mean of surviving without money and sometimes without family.


Japan is the third biggest economy in the world in terms of nominal GDP. A surplus balance and positive expectations of economic growth for the following decades present the country as a good prospect to invest. The cost of living in big cities such as Tokyo costs around €995, according to Numbeo 2019. Living expenses in the country are thus higher than in other countries. The Gini coefficient in Japan was 0.34 in 2015, higher than the coefficient of countries like the Netherlands, which shows that the Asian country needs to make better efforts to reduce income inequality. Their GDP per capita PPP of the same year, however, puts the Netherlands in a better position, as announced by the World Bank. The relation maintains the positions of the two countries, even if Japan shows better economic performance. It shows that even if occupying a referential economic position worldwide, Japan still has some room for improvement. Furthermore, the decline of the population growth rate  (-0.2% in 2018) is an additional problem for the Japanese government to solve.


The OECD announced in 2017 that the high level of government debt has put pressure on the pension system. Large bonuses and penalties are incentives for over 65-years-old people (age of legal retirement) to work longer, combining work and pension is restricted in the country, which limits flexible retirement. Over 8 million employees are 65 or older, which accounts for 12 percent of the total labor force, expected to increase by 2050. The average employee pension is about 65008 yen (€ 534.68) per month, as published by the Japan Pension Service in 2019. However, this amount is much lower than the living expenses (€995 per month) without taking into account rent expenses. An increase of public interest in the health of the pension system spiked last June after research by The Financial Services Agency. The report shows that a model household of retired people who rely on pension payouts as their only source of income will have a shortage of 20 million yen to cover daily expenses if they live to 95. The document was highly criticized by the government because it played an important role in the credibility drop of the pension system. The report was not approved by the Ministry of Finance; however, the draft report will keep being published in the agency’s website as an official document and proposal to encourage the management and investment of assets to offset some adverse future consequences of facing an aging society and the decrease of the workforce. The controversy around the document was an important heading of Japanese news that lasted some weeks. Nevertheless, it is an open room for debate about the pension system. It makes it clear that the benefits to retirees are covered by premiums paid by the working-age population. It declines the level of payouts to future retirees as the workforce may decrease if the government does not create effective strategies to increase the labor force and cope with elderly ranks expansion problems.


These are some of the reasons why old people are getting affected by the current problems in the country. Less food, less money and in several cases no family makes retirees more likely to see the jail as their way to escape from economic problems. Psychological and physical diseases that should be treated by specialists are burdens paid by the prisons that have become temporal refuges to have food, shelter, medicine, and company. Programs of reintegration to society are still in development and the probability for old people to find a job is much lower than for working-age people. Thus, going back to the streets or in jail are common actions for old ex-convicted. Jails get more demand of staff for security, rehabilitation and medical assistance for old inmates which increases government expenses as well, urging the government to take action to improve the situation.


Authorities look for some solutions to reduce elderly crime wave in the country, such as opening the boards for highly-skilled workers.  For instance, foreign professionals from countries such as Vietnam can apply for long term residency visas. They can bring their family to Japan and find well-paid jobs as they pay taxes, increase productivity, and contribute to the pension system. Another alternative to solve the problem in the labor market is to increase the retirement age to 70 or 75 years, as announced by the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe this year. It may also help to decrease problems of pensions in a country where one-third of the total population is older than 65 years old. Furthermore, the innovation in robotics can be useful to boost productivity and decrease the demand for human labor to cushion at some level the actual shortage of workers. Nonetheless, these ideas still need to gain support in the country to help solve Japan’s social problems. Until then, the struggles and incentives of old people to go to jail keep increasing, which constitutes a wakeup call for attention to one of the most vulnerable populations of the country.

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