Interview: Why Are Single Mothers Prone to Poverty?

NPO Single Mothers' Forum,
a Member of the Exective Board

Graduate School Student

【The article below is the same as the article that appears in the thirteenth issue of the CGS Newsletter.】

The employment rate amongst Japanese single mothers, 84.5%, is far higher in comparison to that of women with children who have a spouse (50.7%) and that of single mothers in other countries (approx. 60% in the U.S. and in Germany). However, their average annual salary, including income like the Child-Rearing Allowance, remains at 2,130,000yen, which is lower than 40% of the average annual household income of 5,638,000yen. Why are single mothers prone to poverty? The chairperson of the "Single Mother's Forum," Ms. Chieko Akaishi (C.A), examines this issue in the following discussion with Ms. Mirai Oowa (M.O), a single mother and graduate student in sociology.

(CGS Editorial Committee)

●Problems with Job Assistance to Single Mothers

M.O: The recent legislative trends gone from welfare support to job assistance, haven't they? The other day I was at the government office and I asked, "Why are we moving towards job assistance?" They replied bluntly, "Because we have no money." (laughter). There's really nothing we can do if the government offices that are meant to solve the problem of poverty don't have any money either.

C.A: It seems that Workfare (restricting welfare benefits to those who meet certain requirements for training/ job opportunities) has become a worldwide trend. But most of it hasn't been effective. Job assistance has only been available for so-called pink collar workers like nursery staff, home-helpers, welfare carers, and nurses. The wages for childcare and nursing care are especially low, but they are the most common jobs for single mothers because there is no age restriction. Although these are important jobs that involve responsibility for other people's lives, most women in these jobs are treated as "society's wives" and paid low wages. Nurses have comparably higher remuneration, but some women are forced to quit their jobs because having to work two shifts, including night shifts, means that they can't see to the needs of their children.

M.O: Nursery staff and public childcare workers (family welfare workers) are actively being recruited. But "experience in childcare" is actually part of the qualifications required of childcare workers, that is, experience raising children or experience as a mother. So, in the end it seems as though women are being told that they should become "society's mothers." And you know, the wages aren't very high.

C.A: Public childcare workers can still earn a decent amount. But it is really hard work because there's no time to rest and because of the psychological strain. With the ever-lengthening waiting lists for admission to nursery school, the government should be trying to improve the work environment for nursery staff, but instead it is privatizing and denormalizing the work.

M.O: Even if the government gives out subsidies to increase the number of nursery schools and staff in order to make it easier for single mothers to work, the money will be recovered by the taxes that they pay. I just don't understand why the government doesn't consider that. I think that money shouldn't just be wasted on institutions. It should be spent on people.

●Problems with the Government's Welfare and Taxation System

C.A: Unmarried mothers are made to submit documentation that asks about the father's visits and financial support, and whether or not he intends to acknowledge the child.

M.O: You know, every year, I'm asked whether I intend to marry or not. Even though this is only the initial application stage, I have to take a copy of my family register. People who can't submit that documentation can't receive the child welfare allowance. That's the system. Furthermore, if you're unmarried and the father acknowledges the child, 80% of the child support from the father counts as your income, so it's taxable. Child support received without acknowledgment is seen as a donation, so donation tax becomes applicable. Child support is something you receive because you're already in a position of poverty with a low income and moreover, it's supposed to be for your children. But you still get taxed for it. In the case of tax deductions for dependents, for each child you can only put down either the father or the mother. If you're not married, they tax you in excess and without deductions.

C.A: On the other hand, widows and their children receive about twice the amount of the child-rearing allowance (about 40,000 yen) in annuities to surviving relatives. Even in the tax system, widows are eligible for exemption as long as they don't remarry. This preferential treatment continues for life, even after the children become adults. Divorced mothers are eligible for exemption while their children are sill dependent, but mothers who have never married are not eligible at all. The system is set up for women who show the most loyalty to men, that is, you have to marry a man and stay with him until he dies. It's even more generous if your husband died fighting for the country for example, because then you get the war widows pension on top of it all. The system doesn't consider unmarried mothers at all, does it?

M.O: Well, the system as it's been run until now was originally based on the pre-war patriarchal model. That's why children born out of wedlock who are acknowledged by their fathers are considered to be the same as the children of a mistress. So the mother is expected to receive an allowance from the father.

C.A: It's really so obvious that it's kind of funny, don't you think? (laughter)

M.O: It's set up so that you get taxed even though you are already poor. Basically, it penalizes you if you stray from the male income-provider model. But if you grin and bear it and submit the necessary documents to notify them of your current status, society will deign to help.
The children's allowance started this year; I'm thankful for that supplementary 13,000 yen per month. The child-rearing allowance supplementing my income previously was only about 10,000 yen before your child starts school and was cut by more than fifty percent after graduation.

C.A: I don't think it's a bad idea to provide a relatively universal children's allowance. But it is possible that there will be arguments in future for the single parents' child-rearing allowance to be reduced in exchange. If that happens, welfare on the whole will cease to balance the low income of mothers who raise children on their own. If that happens, I think we will have to for the child-rearing allowance to be added to the children's allowance for single parents.
Until now, we have been demanding policies for single mothers and their children, but systems created only for such families are easy targets for bashing. That's why I think we should aim for some sort of universal system for children instead.

●Towards a Society that Supports Children

C.A: Even with the diversification of men's consciousness and the existence of those who support movements for joint-custody, there will also still be those who are completely apathetic. It's extremely complicated.

M.O: I think it would be good if there were a system in place that allows children to see their parents when they want to. It's better to have the children choose, when it comes down to it.

C.A: I think there will be a growing need for a system that focuses on the children and supports their growth, as well as an allowance that is paid to the children themselves, rather than the head of the household. Also, it would be a better world if the entire burden of raising children wasn't placed upon their parents. (laughter)

M.O: Yes, I agree. I hope we will become a society in which many people are involved in caring for our children.