Why is there a massive discrepancy in rates of homelessness between New York City and Tokyo, the two most populated cities in the world? Could it be that Japan has a far more robust social safety net for its citizens?
The number of homeless residents in New York City, the largest city in the United States, reached a record high this month at more than 56,000 people. Halfway around the world, another metropolis recently hit a homeless record of its own: just 1,697 people are currently homeless in Tokyo, also its country’s largest city and the most populated city in the world, a record low since surveys began in 2002.
What’s even more surprising than the discrepancy in homeless populations between the two cities is the fact that Tokyo, at 13.4 million people, is larger than New York City (8.4 million people) and Los Angeles (3.9 million people) combined. While the rate of homelessness in New York is currently 67 for every 10,000 people, in Tokyo there is just one homeless individual for every 10,000 city residents.
Why the massive discrepancy in rates of homelessness between two of the most populous cities in the world?
As with most socioeconomic phenomena, there are a number of contributing factors. First and foremost, income inequality is a massive and growing problem in the United States, while Japan has historically had one of the lowest rates of inequality among developed countries. One principal measure of income inequality is the GINI coefficient, a measure from 0.0 (perfect equality) to 1.0 (perfect inequality). Recent surveys in the two countries found a GINI coefficient in Japan of 0.32, while in the US that rate was 0.41. However, income inequality can’t be the only explanation for Japan’s success combatting homelessness, especially considering that the country’s inequality index has actually worsened over the past few decades.