Inequality and the rapid growth of the nonregular work force have become major social concerns in Japan over the past decade. The number of nonregular employees has risen rapidly, through economic growth and slump alike, since the early 1990s. New government figures put the proportion of nonregular workers at 37.8%, second only to the Netherlands among advanced democracies. During the same period, the poverty rate has grown alarmingly as well and now ranks a close second to that of the US. While the link between rising numbers of nonregular workers and rising poverty is unproven, the existence of such a link is now widely assumed among the public.

In Japan, the division between regular workers (seishain) and nonregular workers (hiseiki shain) is especially sharp. Seishain are full-time...

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