(TMU) — As unemployment numbers continue to rise above record levels around the world, some governments have taken measures to provide unemployment benefits, stimulus packages, bailouts, and temporary basic income programs to prop up the economy until the pandemic passes.
However, in the United States, large sections of the economy have been left out of these relief efforts because their income is either not documented or not recognized by the federal government.
This includes people in the informal economy, who work under the table for smaller businesses, work odd jobs, or depend on tips that they don’t claim on their tax returns. This also includes people who don’t pay taxes for whatever reason, as well as undocumented laborers.
Sex workers and exotic dancers are among the large number of Americans who are finding themselves without work or unemployment benefits during the economic shutdown. This is not the case everywhere, as CNN reported earlier this week, sex workers in Japan have been included in the financial aid package that is currently being drafted by the central government.
While many aspects of the sex industry are still illegal in Japan, activists have pushed for the industry to be included in the stimulus package that the government is currently drafting.
In a letter to the government on April 2nd, Japanese advocacy organization Sex Work And Sexual Health (SWASH) said, “Do not exclude sex workers from receiving support money. We want sex workers and their children to be protected, like other workers and their children.”
The government responded by adding guidelines that approved subsidies for those working “legally” in the sex industry, which still excludes a large number of people.
These requirements have left many workers in the industry afraid to apply for the assistance, due to concerns that they could out themselves and face legal consequences. The plan would also require applicants to show proof of their salary and lost income, which is obviously a problem for an industry that does so much business “off the books.”
One sex worker, speaking under the condition of anonymity with CNN, said, “(The government) haven’t clearly said they will help everybody. There are many people unable to eat and survive without working. It’s not clear how freelance workers whose income has not been reported to the government can get approved for the stimulus. I want to apply for it, but it is not clear how to do it. I’m stuck.”
The finer points of the plan are still being negotiated by the government, and amendments are being added to the draft as the government reacts to public opinion. There have been calls for a more accessible relief package for average citizens, but it is unclear if the government will ease up on any of its requirements.
Despite generating an estimated $24 billion a year in Japan, the sex industry is still very controversial in the country’s largely socially conservative culture. The fact that sex workers are being offered any financial relief from the government has sparked protests among many high profile Japanese conservatives, who don’t want the industry to get any taxpayer funds.
Advocates have responded to the backlash with a hashtag campaign called “#NightWorkIsAlsoWork,” which has gone viral, sparking a national conversation about sex work in Japan.
One tweet from someone who claims to work in the industry said, “I wonder when this country started ranking people’s lives. Do you abandon single mothers who work in the night business and people who need to work for a living? Stop being prejudiced, stop discriminating based on people’s jobs, stop being misogynistic.”
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