Pocket money for Japan's salarymen continues to shrink
Survey shows Abe's reforms still not cutting it as costs rise, salaries stagnate
TOKYO -- Japan's stoic salarymen can't catch a break. Their monthly pocket money further eroded in 2017 to a paltry 37,428 yen ($331) -- the lowest level since 1982, according to an annual survey by Shinsei Bank. The finding is a blow to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's goal of economic reform, which after four years had started to see some success.
In Japan, pocket money -- often administered by wives -- refers to the monthly allowance that husbands use for lunch, drinking out, hobbies and other pursuits popular with white-collar workers.
And the hits keep coming. This year's monthly allowances have also decreased, down 447 yen so far from 2016's monthly average. Although only a slight dip, allowances remain a far cry from their high of 80,000 yen seen during Japan's halcyon days of the late 1980s.
One reason for this year's decrease may be that only 8% of salarymen interviewed had received a raise, despite the country's modest economic recovery.
For salarymen, their dwindling pocket money is no surprise. According to Shinsei's annual surveys, conducted since 1979, allowances have been decreasing annually for the last three years. In 2013 alone they were less than half the amount seen during the zenith of the country's bubble economy.
Adding to salarymen's woes is the slight uptick in prices for lunch and after-work drinks. This year, male salaried workers spent on average 11,975 yen on drinking out, an increase of 210 yen compared to 2016 . Lunch prices also rose, standing now at 590 yen, 3 yen more than last year.
Of course, the differences over the past few years look small, but they reflect the rising inflation that is a goal of Haruhiko Kuroda, Governor of the Bank of Japan. It appears Kuroda has no intention of easing his monetary stimulus until inflation, which has sat at 0.4% since April, reaches 2%.
The average allowance of male workers is a fairly reliable indicator of how Abe's reforms are doing. Despite Japan's recent growth in nominal GDP, stagnant wages pose a big problem to the country's economy, negatively affecting both labor productivity and personal consumption goals. An April survey by The Nikkei showed that wage growth has slowed slightly in 2017 to 2.1%, down 0.02% from 2016.
Shrinking allowances are not the only thing worrying salarymen, as their very existence continues to be threatened by Abe's call for productivity-based pay and more women in the workforce.
Other Abe reforms have also been chipping away at the salarymen. One out of three reported that other notable changes to the work environment -- such as less overtime and more paid vacation -- are being implemented.
Perhaps most galling to Japan's worker bees has been the increase in female workers' allowances, which have actually increased, testament to the success of Abe's push for more women in the workplace.