Coronavirus makes life even more difficult for single mothers in Japan

The coronavirus is causing worry for people from all walks of life. But for single mothers in Japan, many of whom struggle to make ends meet during the best of times, the current situation is particularly perilous.

Over half of single mothers say income has decreased

"I'm in the hotel industry and the decline in travel has left me without work. I have to stay home and my income has fallen. I wanted to buy new school supplies for my two kids."

"My children can't go to school so all my expenses are rising. Food, electricity. I'm worried I won't be able to keep up."

These are among the responses that a single mother support group received for a survey it conducted in April. The Tokyo-based Single Mother Forum wanted to get an idea of the economic effects of the pandemic on single mothers. More than 200 people responded.

While over 90% of respondents said they still have jobs, nearly 70% said their employment is unstable. Many are only working part-time or as temporary staff.

54% said they expect their income to fall.

The Japanese government asked municipalities throughout the country to temporarily close schools in March and April. Many are still shut.

About 85% of respondents said the coronavirus outbreak and the school closures are forcing them to change their work habits. Some said they are going home earlier, while others said they have taken days off entirely.

80% of respondents with children in elementary school said they are anxious about the decline in time their children spend outside.

"Help the most vulnerable members of society"

In 2019, Japan dropped to 121st in global gender equality rankings—the lowest mark in the country's history. This is borne out in income statistics.

Data from Japan's Welfare Ministry shows that in 2016, there were 1.4 million single parent households in the country. Nearly 90%, or 1.2 million, were led by mothers. Their annual income was two million yen, or about 18,600 dollars—half the figure earned by single fathers. And while single fathers made 80% of the average income of two-parent households, single mothers made only 50%.

Business leaders and journalists have launched a website to help mothers and children who are living in poverty.

Some business leaders believe the coronavirus pandemic is providing Japan with an opportunity to redress this imbalance.

A group of CEOs, entrepreneurs and journalists have launched a website to boost the efforts of organizations that help impoverished women and children in the country. The site lists nearly 20 such groups, and provides information on how people can donate and offer their own support.

"The coronavirus has put the most vulnerable members of our society in even more difficult situations," says Miyagi Haruo, one of the business leaders involved in the project. "Ordinary people don't see what's going on so we felt like we needed to let them know. Hopefully this will benefit all of society after the virus subsides."