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Freeter (フリーター furītā?) (other spellings below) is a Japanese expression for people between the age of 15 and 34 who lack full time employment or are unemployed, excluding homemakers and students. They may also be described as underemployed or freelance workers. These people do not start a career after high school or university but instead usually live as so called parasite singles with their parents and earn some money with low skilled and low paid jobs. The low income makes it difficult for freeters to start a family, and the lack of qualifications makes it difficult to start a career at a later point in life.

The word freeter or freeta was first used around 1987 or 1988 and is thought to be an amalgamation of the English word free (or perhaps freelance) and the German word Arbeiter ("worker").[1] (The German word Arbeit is commonly used as the Japanese loanword arubaito for "part-time job".) It is said that the use was coined by the Japanese part time job magazine From A (Japanese: フロムエー Furomuē). Other possible spellings are furītā, furiita, freeta, furiitaa, or furitaa in order of frequency.


[edit] Current situation

Freeters are a relatively new phenomenon in Japan. The word freeter was used first around 1987 during the bubble economy, referring to young people who deliberately chose not to work despite a large number of jobs available at that time. During this time, freeters were also somewhat glamorized as people pursuing their dreams and trying to live life to the fullest.

In the first years of the 21st century, the number of freeters began rising rapidly. In 1982 there were an estimated 0.5 million freeters in Japan, 0.8 million in 1987, 1.01 million in 1992 and 1.5 million in 1997. The official number for 2001 is 4.17 million freeters according to one count, or 2 million in 2002 according to another estimate, approximately three percent of the working population. According to some estimates there will be ten million freeters in Japan in 2014. The rapid increase in the number of freeters has many Japanese people worried about their future impact on the society. Freeters often work at convenience stores, supermarkets, fast food outlets, restaurants, and other low paying, low skill jobs (assuming they work at all). According to a survey of the Japan Institute of Labor in 2000, the average freeter works 4.9 days per week and earns ¥139,000 per month (ca. $1,300 U.S.). Two thirds of freeters have never had a regular, full time job.

[edit] Causes

The Japan Institute of Labor classifies freeter into three groups, the moratorium type that wants to wait before starting a career, the dream pursuing type, and the no alternative type. The moratorium and dream pursuing type of freeter deliberately chooses not to join the rat race in the usually strict and conservative companies (see: Culture of Japan) but instead wants to take a time-out to enjoy life or have specific dreams incompatible with a standard Japanese career. Many freeters hope to start their career later in life in order to achieve a steady income that supports a family, and many female freeters hope to marry a reasonably successful husband for the same reasons.

The no alternative type are freeters that cannot find employment after leaving school or university, and subsequently take low paying jobs in order to receive some income. This may be either due to a lack of marketable skills of the person or due to the difficult employment situation in Japan. Women in general find it more difficult to start a successful career in Japan and can often only find employment as an office lady. In any case, about 10% of high school and university graduates could not find a steady employment in the spring of 2000, and a full 50% of those who could find a job left within 3 years after employment. The unemployment situation is worst for the young people; some freeters are desperately seeking a job, while only a minority have given up hope of finding steady employment.

[edit] Effects

[edit] Difficulties starting their own household

The freeters' lifestyle has a number of effects, mostly of a negative nature. First of all, freeters earn little and are continually plagued by a low income's inherent limitations; a freeter usually cannot establish his or her own household. Instead, most freeters live for free with their parents as parasite singles. While living with one's parents is not necessarily a bad thing per se, it is not sustainable in the long run. Parents in Japan usually do not force their offspring out of the house, but children eventually have to move out, for a number of reasons.

First, Japanese housing is usually rather compact, and while the typical apartment or house serves one family adequately, it is usually too small for two families. Thus, if freeters want to marry, they have to find their own housing, usually at their own expense. More sobering is the simple consideration that children typically outlive their parents. Once the parents die, the children will have to pay for their housing themselves, and even if they inherit the house or apartment there are still many other costs of living that they have to pay.

Also, many offspring in their twenties or thirties find living with their parents confining; it almost inevitably constricts their personal and social freedom. But due to the limited income of the freeters, living with their parents is usually the only option.

In other countries, some freeters with enough saved money move into a friend's apartment or house to share rent and expenses. Some parents will make the down payment on a small home for their son or daughter. Other freeters who don't have enough money may buy a tent and sleeping bag, becoming vagabond campers or even homeless. A few buy cheap land to live on. However, such wilderness areas, as a practical matter, are too far from most jobsites. Self-employed at-home jobs are possibilities for some former freeters, a practice now made more possible by Internet storefronts. A few freeters buy building materials such as bricks and concrete to erect a small house on cheap land, especially in areas where the building codes are not strict or not well-enforced. Some save up money to buy a cheap metal shed, normally used for storage, and a portable plastic outhouse. These former freeters choose a lower standard of living to gain independence from their parents. In France, freeters often join communes.

[edit] Difficulties starting a career

Limited income is the biggest problem freeters face when they voluntarily or involuntarily have to begin paying for their own living expenses. Starting a career becomes more difficult the longer somebody is a freeter, as Japanese enterprises prefer to hire new workers fresh out of high school or university. While the employment situation is changing, large traditional companies still see a new employee as a lifetime investment. They much prefer to hire a young person who will be easier to mold into the desired kind of employee and who will give a higher return on training investment due to the longer time of employment until retirement.

Subsequently, freeters find it increasingly difficult to find success as they wait longer to start a career and their options dwindle. Often the only option left for freeters is to continue the low income part time jobs, making it difficult to establish their own household. In the worst case scenario, they have to join the many homeless in Japan. However, some freeters have managed to find a successful self-employed career.

Some experts predict that Japan's aging population will create a labor shortage that will open more career options for freeters.

[edit] The marriage option

In the case of female freeter, the situation is slightly better. Traditionally, a Japanese woman was not expected to work after marriage but instead had to take care of the household and the children. This situation is changing only slowly, and a female freeter has the possibility to marry a husband with a career and to become a housewife. However, just as men above the age of 30 often find it difficult to start a career, women above the age of 30 often find it difficult to find a husband.

Of course, for the same reasons male freeters are often much less desired as husbands due to their inability to financially support a family.

[edit] Health and pension insurance

One problem most freeters overlook is that the many part time jobs usually do not include any health or retirement benefits. While a young person is usually in better health, youth eventually gives way to middle and old age, and health declines accordingly. Additionally, accidents may happen anytime in life. Subsequently, there may be a sudden health expense, which due to the lack of insurance has to be paid by the freeters or their parents. This will be difficult with a low income and small or nonexistent savings.

The biggest problem for the freeters is that the Japanese pension system is based on the number of years a person has paid into the system. Furthermore, the pension system pays only a small amount (see Culture of Japan), and therefore most career employees have a saving plan with their company. The freeter, however, usually has little or no pension insurance and little or no savings, which may force him or her to work beyond the usual retirement age. Additionally, Japan, as many other countries with similar pension systems, face the problem of an aging population. As the ratio of pensioners receiving money to workers paying into the system shifts, the whole system is put into jeopardy. It can be predicted that the current pension system will not work anymore in 30 years unless there is a drastic change in the demographics of Japan.

[edit] Freedom of choice

The advantage of being a freeter is that one has more freedom of choice, and more time for hobbies or to pursue other dreams. Furthermore, if they are living with their parents, they do not have any living costs and can spend their entire income on their personal lifestyle. Therefore they may be able to realize their dreams more than a career employee with little time, at least while they are young.

[edit] Effect on Japanese society

The large number of freeters have potential effects on the entire society of Japan, both positive and negative. First of all, while they are young, freeters commonly live with their parents and therefore have disposable income that would otherwise go toward rent. This spending helps the manufacturing sector of the Japanese economy.

By living in the same house as their parents and often not owning a car, Freeters have a much lower impact on the natural environment and pollution than other "high consumption" members of society.

Large numbers of workers trying to start careers in their thirties may have a significant impact on the current corporate culture of Japan. It may change hiring and employment practices, particularly since demographers predict a future labor shortage due to the nation's aging population. The employment system may change to put more emphasis on skills than on tenure as is currently the situation.

Another problem is that many male freeters have difficulties marrying due to their low income. They may thus have children later in life or not at all. This will further reduce the already low birth rate in Japan and compound social and economic problems related to the aging population, such as underfunding of the Japanese pension system. Freeters pay little or no money into the system, yet the payments of the working population cover pension payments to the retired population. This situation will become even worse in the future as more people become freeters and the ratio of employed population to retired population shifts.

To counter this problem, the Japanese government has established a number of offices called Young Support Plaza to help young people find jobs. These offices offer support and basic training for job hunting, teaching young people how to write a résumé, for example, and how to comport themselves during interviews. However, the demand for the services of the Young Support Plaza has been fairly low as of yet.

[edit] References

[edit] See also

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