Who are they?
Freeter (Japanese: フリーター furītā) is a Japanese expression for people between the age of 15 and 34 who lack full time employment or are unemployed, excluding housewives 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 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 make it difficult to start a career at a later point in life.
Freeters are a relatively new phenomenon in Japan. The word freeter was used first around 1987 during the bubble economy, referring to young people that 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.
Freeters, freeloaders, and the political opposition
WITH NOTHING TO LOSE but their chains, the “freeters”, Japan’s term for temporary workers that hop from job to job, have formed a labor union. They held a demonstration last week that was covered by the Japan Times:
Temporary workers known as “freeters” and other dissatisfied laborers gathered Monday in Tokyo to demand a better work environment and higher wages, arguing government policies have caused many of them to settle for low-paying jobs and an unsteady life.
What do you think of freeters?
Extracts from an Online Survey
Of the freeter group, 42% replied, "I'm a freeter because I'm comfortable with the life." Another 36% said, "If a freeter is comfortable with being a freeter, that's fine." The remaining 22% were less enthusiastic: "Although I'm a freeter, I'm not really happy about it," was their response. [See graph 1]
Among full-time employees, the majority were well disposed to freeters, with 48% replying, "I can understand people becoming freeters." Another 24% answered, "As long as they're comfortable about it, that's fine." That left only 28% who said they could not understand people becoming freeters. [See graph 2]
The top three answers given by freeters for why they were happy with that lifestyle were "It leaves me plenty of time for myself" (36%); "If there's something you dream of doing, you should give that priority" (24%); and "Even if you get a regular job, there's no guarantee of a stable livelihood" (17%). Presumably drawing on their experience of employment, the full-time workers who expressed understanding of the freeter lifestyle answered, "You should give priority to your dreams" (31%); "If you're not sure what you want to do, it's a way of marking time until you know" (26%); and "You can avoid the complicated personal relationships involved in working as a regular company employee" (17%). On the other hand, those freeters who were unhappy with their situation gave very practical reasons: "It's an unstable livelihood" (26%); "The wages are bad" (19%); and "The employer usually makes no social security provision" (19%). The two main reasons given by full-time employees for thinking that working as a freeter was unsatisfactory were similar: "Unstable livelihood" (41%) and "Unstable social security" (32%).