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Politics

Faulty wage data over 14 years dents trust in Japan stats

Nearly $500m in benefits owed for unemployment, parental leave and more

The growing scandal is casting a shadow over the credibility of Japan's economic outlook.   © Reuters

TOKYO -- The shock waves from years of inaccurate labor surveys in Japan are spreading far beyond unemployment benefits, even forcing the government to revise its fiscal 2019 budget and revisit past economic indicators.

A total of 19.73 million people are owed about 53.7 billion yen ($495 million) in unpaid benefits dating back to 2004, according to a report issued Friday by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare.

A recent internal investigation found that the ministry's Monthly Labor Survey had skipped many large Tokyo-based companies since 2004. This pulled down its estimate of average wages across the country and led the government to pay much less than it should have in unemployment benefits.

Now the faulty figures also seem to have impacted parental leave benefits, workers' compensation, subsidies for older workers, and more.

The ministry is setting up special help desks to distribute the unpaid funds. The government will not ask for overpayments to be repaid.

The Cabinet Office said that it will as early as this month update past figures for employee compensation, which is based on the monthly survey and published quarterly alongside gross domestic product estimates. The adjustments could also lead to revisions of data for household disposable income and corporate earnings.

There is also concern that the figures could affect the government's economic outlook and policies, though Economic Revitalization Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said that "one statistical survey will not cause dramatic changes."

"If the data loses credibility, trust in the government's economic assessments may take a hit as well," said Yoshiki Shinke of the Dai-ichi Life Research Institute.

In response to reports that ministry officials purposely told employees to use inappropriate sampling techniques, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga instructed relevant agencies Friday to review the government's 56 big economic indicators. The government also plans to revise the draft budget for the coming fiscal year and resubmit it for cabinet approval.

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