For decades, Japan avoided widespread poverty through a system of guaranteed lifetime employment, which made a European-style social welfare system unnecessary. But lifetime employment rested on a substructure of gender discrimination. Corporations could require long, flexible hours from male employees as long as wives stayed home, and they could adjust their labor needs around the edges by hiring and firing women when necessary. But beginning in the late 1990s, neoliberal reforms reduced the number of lifetime jobs without leading to corresponding improvements in social protections. The result was harder work conditions for both regular and irregular workers and growing income inequality, unemployment, and poverty. Miura traces the problem to the ideological hostility of conservative political elites to gender equality and social rights. Despite a growing awareness of the problem in the country, she sees little prospect for change, because the coalition comprised of corporations and protected workers has more clout than the growing cadre of the disadvantaged.
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