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March 20, 2002:

JAPAN RECRUITS THE UNEMPLOYED TO INVENTORY WILDLIFE
Modern Version of "New Deal" Makes Work in Environment and Education

With Japan's national unemployment rate now reaching 5.3%, the country has instituted a $2.7 billion make-work program modeled after Franklin Delano Roosevelt's "New Deal." The idea is to think up lots of inefficient jobs that would employ as many people as possible, according to The Wall Street Journal in a feature article about counting deer droppings, inventorying litter on city streets, and other odd jobs (1).

"In their campaign to reduce suffering, the authorities have a competitive advantage: Japan's oft-overlooked genius for inefficiency. This country's automobile and high-end electronics factories are world-class, but in much of the rest of the economy, Japanese workers are laggards," the March 19 article by Yumiko Ono pointed out.

The Journal article described a former blouse factory worker traipsing through the woods with nine other jobless scat hunters to scoop up deer droppings into brown envelopes so that the Deer Habitation Research Program by the Kumamoto prefecture in southern Japan can keep track of the deer population. The wildlife management official could have used cameras equipped with infrared sensors from a helicopter to gage the population of the deer that were damaging cypress bark with their antlers, but chose the labor intensive method to qualify for the government funds. The workers receive the equivalent of about $80 a day for this work.

A city in Wakayama prefecture has put 50 people to work catching snails, according to the Journal. The good-spirited workers imposed a goal on themselves to catch five pounds of the large snails each day, enjoying their productive work to control these mollusks that inhabit rice paddies.

Another work-creation program, "To investigate the True Condition of Litter," sponsored by the Shiga prefecture in western Japan, has 63 unemployed people inventorying litter locations on a map.

Other jobs in education and forestry keep up the spirits of the unemployed while they look for work in other fields and receive unemployment benefits. Unemployed office workers may prune trees and chop wood. During the next three years, the Japanese government plans to create over 500,000 of these labor-intensive temporary jobs.

The Journal mentioned that the jobless men previously worked at positions such as cab driver, delivery man and factory worker. One man interviewed by the Journal recently got back into the mainstream as a salesman for a chemical company.

In the United States, the federal Environmental Protection Agency uses countless volunteers, usually organized through local schools, to measure water quality and other aspects of river "health" in connection with the American Heritage Rivers program. Boy Scout programs use volunteers to restore habitat. And employees of federal, state, and local agencies, as well as college researchers, inventory habitat and measure wildlife populations.

Make-work programs involving city street litter in the United States are unimaginative by comparison to the Japanese program mentioned in the Journal article. In the U.S., the jobless do street-sweeping and manual cleanup, not semi-skilled jobs relying on pencil and paper or map reading. Yet, the Japanese managers pointed out that their jobs require almost zero training.

While the tree-planting days of the Works Progress Administration, when U.S. unemployment hit 25%, have gone by the wayside, unskilled environmental protection jobs abound. In fact, it might be said that some high-priced biologists are doing repetitious, unskilled work that the jobless could perform while getting out in the countryside. Natural areas where wildlife habitat is studied are often fenced off from the general population, and used exclusively by researchers. Some of these beautiful natural areas, such as one on the south shore of Long Island, could provide a welcome respite for poor urban jobless, who would otherwise have no opportunity to enjoy such surroundings or break into areas of environmental employment (2).

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Notes:

(1) Yumiko Ono, "Japan's New Deal: Count Deer Droppings, Collect a Paycheck," The Wall Street Journal, March 19, 2002, page A-1.

(2) During February 2002, the unemployment rate in the United States was 5.5 %, which is considered a cause for moderate concern, but is down from recent months. The year-long average U.S. unemployment rate was 4.8% for 2001, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Although the Japanese unemployment rate is two/tenths of a point lower than the current U.S. rate, it is considered to be of greater concern.

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