Are declining real wages in Japan driving poverty, inequality and the suicide rate?

Economist Noah Smith wrote in his latest Bloomberg article:

[Economist] Kamesaka says that wages are the key to Japan’s suicide rate, which has fallen a bit recently but is still among the highest in the developed world. Japanese real wages have been declining for a very long time, driving up inequality and poverty.

But declining real wages aren’t likely to be driving up poverty levels considering that the poverty rate has been flat for the past 10 years and essentially flat for the past 18 years. The same has been true for inequality as the post transfer Gini coefficient from 2000 to at least through the worst year for unemployment, 2009 and likely through 2012. (OECD data:)

  • post transfer Gini coefficient

2000 .34
2003 .32
2006 .33
2009 .34

  • relative poverty (MHLW/OECD)

2000 15.3 %
2003 14.9 %
2006 15.7 %
2009 16.0 %
2012 16.1 %

Since the poverty level hasn’t changed since 2006, we can expect the 2012 post transfer Gini coefficient to be very close to .34 as well, the same as it was in 2000.

Wages don’t seem to have much to do with suicide rate changes, either. Also, the suicide rate hasn’t just fallen “a bit in recent years” but has decreased from 30,000 in 2011 to 24,000 in 2015, a 20% decrease in just the past four years right as real wages have decreased the most since 2009. A more detailed post on Japan’s suicide rate and economics coming up.

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