Job offers in Fukushima Prefecure, site of last year's nuclear accident, are a dime a dozen, relatively speaking. But that's not much of a consolation for people who were forced to evacuate from their homes.
Despite a growing number of job offers, many evacuees say the opportunity to work forces them to make a choice they would rather not make.
Statistics for Fukushima Prefecture released July 31 show that the ratio of job offers to job seekers in June was 1.01, meaning there were 101 offers for every 100 job seekers. It was the first time in 19 years that the ratio has gone above one.
It represented a 34.2-percent increase in job offers from the same month last year. Many offers came from the construction sector, which needs more workers for reconstruction and decontamination activities. The care-giving industry was also well represented.
In the case of Toshinori Okada, he found that accepting a job offer would mean abandoning any plan to return to live in his hometown one day. Others fear they will lose welfare benefits if they work.
Okada, 51, lived in Namie, near the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, but was forced to move to temporary housing in Motomiya, also in the prefecture, after the reactor meltdowns in March 2011.
He used to work at a sewing factory in Tomioka, but it has been shut down since the area was designated a no-entry zone.
Last summer, Okada visited a job placement office near his temporary home and came across a job vacancy at a manufacturer.
Okada recalled being told at the job interview: "You are still registered as a Namie resident. You will have to move here, and register it as your place of residence, if you take this job."
Okada was in a quandary, and finally declined the offer.
"On the one hand, staff at job placement office urge me to work because there are so many offers," Okada said. "On the other hand, Namie calls on its former residents to return one day. If I get a stable job here, I would have to give up on any plan to return."
For Okada and others affected by the disaster, the terms of unemployment compensation were extended. But his payment term ran out at the end of June, forcing him to think about finding work.
"Some people might call me lazy, but I don't want to regret landing a job simply because I have no long-term vision of my future," he said.
Okada is active collecting signatures for a petition to provide long-term welfare benefits for people affected by the nuclear disaster.
In contrast to increased job offers, the number of job seekers fell 23.1 percent year on year. The labor and welfare ministry said 21.9 percent of people whose unemployment benefits had already ended were not searching for jobs in Fukushima Prefecture, compared with 6.2 percent in Miyagi and 9.2 percent in Iwate--the two other prefectures hit hardest by last year’s earthquake and tsunami.
A job training center in Shizuoka Prefecture that was established by the construction industry teaches evacuees how to operate heavy machinery and other equipment.
About 50 people from Fukushima Prefecture were training at the center, fewer than half the number from Miyagi and Iwate.
"Most of them want to find jobs in their hometown, but many from Fukushima don't know if they will be able to return," said an official at the center. "I think that's the reason for the smaller number."
The manner in which nuclear disaster compensation is being paid also seems to be having an effect on whether people seek work.
Tokyo Electric Power Co., operator of the stricken plant, had been cutting compensation payments by the amount people earned from their jobs. The utility announced in June that it would stop the deductions retroactively from March.
Many people decided that getting a job amounted to losing money that was coming their way for free, according to observers.
"When we introduce jobs to people, quite a number of them don't realize the compensation system has been changed," said a staff member at a job placement office in Fukushima Prefecture.
"Even if an evacuation order for a certain area is lifted, some people would hesitate to return, citing a lack of jobs," said Norio Honda, executive director at Genkininaro Fukushima (Cheer Up, Fukushima), an NPO helping victims find jobs and start small businesses. "As things stand, their motivation for work will decline further."
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