The View from The 45th Floor

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This post is by Neil Bomberg, NLC’s Program Director for Human Development and Public Safety.

Last week while in Japan, I had the privilege of meeting with representatives from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government in their 45 story headquarters building in Shinjuku, Tokyo, Japan.  The twin towers and the adjoining Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly building are visible throughout the city, and the 45th floor provides a breathtaking view of Tokyo.

The meetings I went to focused on labor, employment, workforce development and health and how the Tokyo Metropolitan Government is responding to those issues.  And respond they are.

With unemployment at the “unacceptably record high level of 6.3 percent,” the City has embarked on an effort to match jobseekers with private sector jobs.  But the task has not been easy.  There is a mismatch between workers’ expectations and the job market.  Workers, for reasons of prestige, want to work for the largest companies, but jobs in large companies are disappearing as the Japanese economy continues to contract and deflate. Those workers who might otherwise be able to find work in smaller companies are not becoming employed or re-employed because of the desire to work for the Sonys, Toshibas, Mitsubishis and Toyotas of the Japanese world.

In response, the City of Tokyo has come up a three tiered system not unlike the US.  The first is to improve the workplace in all companies — large and small — to make them equally as attractive to all workers.  The second is to establish a system of reemployment services to help individuals find the right jobs in the right companies regardless of size or perceived prestige.  The third is to provide job training and retraining so that unemployed workers can maintain their skills or learn new ones so that they continue to be relevant to employers. But what is different from ours is that trainees receive funds while in grainy as an incentive to stay in job training. 

As for health care, the Japanese are light years ahead of us with a three tiered National Health Insurance that provides private and public health services ranging from care through city-sponsored health and wellness centers; private physicians who provide routine and illness-specific health care; and acute care through a network of specialty and general  hospitals.  While Japan’s health care system is experiencing many of the problems we have — skyrocketing costs, end of life care issues, and increased demand for technology driven health care — what they are not experiencing is the crisis of access to health care or disparities in access to or delivery of health care.  Even the nation’s homeless have access to health care equal to that provided to any other resident of Japan.