Okinawa has been actively promoting the extension of social overhead capital and infrastructure in accordance with two previous Okinawa Promotion and Development Plans(2). The Third Plan, launched in fiscal 1992 and due to be completed in fiscal 2001, aims, in line with the computerization and globalization of economies, at promoting the development of industries that would enable the prefecture to utilize its regional characteristics and advantages. In addition, the prefecture has put forward policies that give a higher added value to existing industries and foster the growth of strategic industries. For example, the Basic Plan for the Cosmopolitan City Formation Concept and the Okinawa Prefectural Industrial Creation Action Program have created a special free trade zone and a scheme for a multimedia island.
These measures are directed at developing the economic inde-pendence of the prefecture. However, human resources, including skilled labor, are crucial to achieving this objective. It is therefore essential to take full advantage of the prefecture's young labor force, which is relatively large. However, in contrast with the development and industrial promotion plans, the young labor force is not being effectively used nor its quality improved because of high unemployment and high rates of labor mobility among young people. This report aims at gaining a picture of the employment situation and labor conditions affecting young people in Okinawa from existing statistical data. It also seeks to analyze their job-seeking behavior by means of a questionnaire survey. A survey was conducted of the occupational careers (employment experience/history) of young people who were unemployed or working part-time immediately after completing school education were surveyed concerning occupational careers.
2.0 The Employment Situation and the Labor Market among Young People(3)
2.1 Trends in the Unemployment Rate
According to the monthly Labour Force Survey, the unemployment rate in Okinawa Prefecture in 1999 stood at 8.3 percent, the highest among the Metropolitan and Prefectural Governments in Japan. The figure has continued to increase at a rate twice the national average. In 1998, the 15-19 age group had the highest unemployment rate at 25.0 percent. This was followed by those aged 20-24 (15.9%) and 25-29 (11.4%) (Figure 1). The national unemployment rates were 10.6 percent for people aged 15-19, 7.1 percent for those aged 20-24, and 5.6 percent for the 25-29 age group. The unemployment rate for people in their late teens and 20s was therefore twice as high in Okinawa Prefecture as for the nation as a whole. The unemployment rate for people aged between 15 and 19 in Okinawa has generally exceeded 20 percent since 1975. Over the same period, unemployment among those aged 20 to 24 has been over 10 percent, implying that Okinawa has a chronic youth unemployment problem.
2.2 Changing Labor Supply
The Population Census shows that the population of Okinawa Prefecture in 1995 totaled 1,272,612. The 0-14 age cohort accounted for 22.1 percent of the population in Okinawa, compared with 15.9 percent for Japan as a whole. The working age population (those aged 15-64) comprised 66.2 percent of the Okinawa population and 69.4 percent of the national population, while the ratio of people aged 65 and older was 11.7 percent in Okinawa compared with 14.5 percent nationally. Compared to the nation as a whole, Okinawa Prefecture has a lower ratio of elderly and a higher ratio of young people. The ratio of the working age population is lower than the national average by some three percent.
The annual growth rate of the population in Okinawa has substantially exceeded the national average since the 1970s (Figure 2). This tendency is expected to continue in the future. While the national population is expected to experience negative growth between the years 2005 and 2010, the population in Okinawa is expected to keep growing until around 2025.
Figure 3 shows trends in the labor force and the ratio of the labor force to the working age population. The labor force in Okinawa shows a slight decrease following the collapse of the bubble economy in 1992, but increases steadily afterwards for both males and females. The growth rate between 1993 and 1998 was 5.2 percent for males and 10.2 percent for females, reflecting the participation of an increasing number of females in the labor market.
The ratio of the labor force to the working age population in 1998 stood at 59.1 percent, lower than the national level of 63.3 percent. In recent years, it has remained at around 58 percent. The ratio for females has been showing a slight upward trend since the collapse of the bubble economy, but the rate for males has been steadily decreasing(4).
The population of Okinawa has itself been increasing, and with increasing female participation, the labor force is expected to continue to expand. Therefore, if sufficient employment opportunities are not available in the region to absorb the increasing labor force, unemployment is likely to be aggravated.
2.3 The Limitations of Employment Allocation Outside the Prefecture
Because of the difficulty in providing enough job opportunities, Okinawa Prefecture has encouraged its residents to obtain jobs outside the region. The number of workers obtaining outside work via general employment placement services totaled about 14,000 in 1990 when the bubble economy peaked (Figure 4). After falling to 5,000 in 1993, the number increased to 10,000 in 1997, and fell again in the following year to 6,000. The ratio of workers obtaining regular employment outside the prefecture through general employment placement services has been low. Between 1992 and 1998, an average of only 13.3 percent of all workers found employment outside the prefecture. Such employment is increasingly likely to be temporary or seasonal. In short, the number of workers who obtain jobs outside the prefecture is decreasing, and many return to Okinawa within a short period. In fact, almost all temporary or seasonal workers work for only six months to one year. Moreover, the majority works in unskilled jobs. An enterprise survey, presented in the Ministry of Labour's Report on the results of a survey of employment of young people returning from the main islands and improvement of labor conditions in Okinawa Prefecture (Ministry of Labour, Fiscal 1989 Comprehensive Survey on Okinawa Promotion and Development, 1990) shows that while companies in Okinawa wish to employ people with work experience on the main islands, they prefer experts or particularly energetic people who have fairly long experience there and have acquired certain knowledge or skills. Returnees who worked as temporary or seasonal workers are not in high demand. The report also refers to a new type of unemployment problem, where the prevalence of temporary and seasonal workers is attributable not only to a preference for short-term jobs over regular employment but also to an over-reliance on unemployment benefits.
2.4 New Graduates in the Labor Market
2.5 Separation among Newly Graduated Workers
Figure 8 shows the rate at which new high school graduates quit jobs that they started immediately after graduation. The rates are based on figures taken from employment insurance data and presented in terms of years after graduation. The graph represents the cumulative rate of graduates leaving their jobs in each consecutive year after graduation. Compared to the data on national rates, the rates for those who quit their jobs in Okinawa are generally high. The long-term trend has been for the ratio of those who quit within one year to exceed the national average by some 10 percent. However, there is no significant difference from the national average in the rates for those who quit within two or three years. It is the high separation rate among workers who left their jobs within one year after graduating from high school that is outstanding. Taken together with the proportion of new graduates without jobs from the beginning, this data suggests a serious problem in the transition from school to the labor market.
3.0 Employment Behavior of Young People
The focus of employment and labor problems in Okinawa Prefecture lies in the scarcity of employment opportunities within the prefecture in relation to its abundant labor supply, a contradiction which reveals itself in joblessness and unemployment among young people initially entering the labor market. In addition, their increasing tendency to stay in the prefecture rather than leave for other regions to work creates further pressure from the supply of young labor. At the same time, the rates of separation and job changing within one year and the jobless rate of new graduates are significantly higher than the national level, highlighting the problems in transition from school to labor market.
In the Ministry of Labour's Report on the results of a comprehensive survey of employment and unemployment patterns among young people in Okinawa Prefecture (Ministry of Labour, Comprehensive Survey on Okinawa Promotion and Development, 2000), the results of a questionnaire survey document the careers of people who neither obtained regular work, nor entered higher education after completing high school(5). For graduates in fiscal 1988, 1992 and 1995, the report shows that immediately on graduation some 60 percent became non-regular workers, etc.(6), and the remaining 40 percent did not take on any job.
The ratio of young people in regular employment is 18.9 percent for people under the age of 25, 34.8 percent for those aged 25 to 29, and 53.7 percent for people aged 30 and over, showing that the ratio of non-regular workers and jobless people tends to decrease with age. In short, a majority of those in their 30s had found regular work.
Nearly 80 percent of the regular employees surveyed have had experience of working as non-regular employees for more than one month after graduating from university or high school, which shows that young people in Okinawa have a tendency to switch from non-regular to regular work after repeated job switching. This gradual transformation of employment patterns is associated with the availability of social resources. For example, the increasing availability of financial support from health insurance and pension schemes or from relatives is likely to work as a disincentive to finding regular work.
Moreover, the likelihood of young people continuing to work as non-regular employees in their present job is influenced strongly by their parents' wishes. When asked to give their opinions about their children working as non-regular employees, 44.5 percent of the parents were in favor, 30.9 percent were opposed, and 22.4 percent indifferent. When parents are opposed to their children working as non-regular employees, their children tend to think of giving up their present non-regular jobs. On the other hand, when they are in favor, their children tend to want to carry on as non-regular employees. This suggests that excessive social and institutional support given to young people might be responsible for the delay in starting their working life as regular employees.
(1) See the Okinawa Prefectural Government's homepage: http://www.pref.okinawa.jp/overview.html.
(2) These are comprehensive plans finalized by the Prime Minister in accordance with the Okinawa Development Special Measures Act; they set forth the basic policies on which the development of the prefecture should be based.
(3) This is based on Shigemi Yahata (2000), Part I: Koy-o to Rod-o (Employment and Labour) in Okinawa Shakai Keizai Hend-o Ch-osa (Survey of Social and Economic Changes in Okinawa), forthcoming, Okinawa Research and Planning Institute.
(4) This is partly attributable to an increase in early retirement from the labor market by male workers aged 50 and older.
(5) The survey was carried out in November and December 1999. Researchers first searched school lists of graduates for graduates living on the Okinawa main island. They selected people other than those who started to work immediately after graduation as regular employees or company managers, or as members of family-run companies, or who went on to higher education, then carried out a questionnaire survey. Effective replies totaled 427.
(6) Non-regular workers, etc. includes part-time and temporary workers, dispatched and contract employees, occasional helpers in family businesses, pieceworkers at home and seasonal and casual workers.
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